The Prom (Netflix) vs. Happiest Season (Hulu)

Posted: December 23rd, 2020 by

Review of Happiest Season and The Prom, by Jennifer Dumin

To our family law clients searching for queer-friendly viewing this holiday season, here’s my take!

I love a cheesy rom-com as much as the next girl, and settling in to watch this season’s offerings, I was ready for any and all of the predictable tropes – meet cutes, rekindled romances, friends to girlfriends, fake dating, kissing in the snow, evil exes, sassy best friends…. Throw in some magic in the form of spontaneous singing and dancing, and I’m sold.

If you want my advice on streaming options, skip Happiest Season on Hulu, and choose The Prom on Netflix, instead.

Happiest Season is the first studio-backed holiday rom-com about a queer couple. It has the same look as a traditional Hallmark offering, just with two women as the romantic leads; but, unfortunately, it shares some of the same retrograde traditional ideas. With Clea Duvall at the helm – my late-90’s lesbian crush from But I’m A Cheerleader – I had high hopes, but I was crushed by the traumatic coming-out plotline with heavy-handed doses of internalized homophobia and family shaming. The protagonist, Abby, deserves so much better than being gaslighted by her closeted and utterly obnoxious girlfriend, Harper. Just eleven minutes into the movie, Abby discovers that Harper has been outright lying to her for months, pretending she is out to her family and that they know about her relationship with Abby; to make matters worse, Harper confesses this huge news while the couple is already in the car on the way to her parent’s house for the holidays! Abby should have ended the relationship right at that moment. Instead, Abby chooses to be forced back into the closet, spending agonizingly uncomfortable days (and days, and days) with her horribly homophobic to-be in-laws. Even glorious performances by Dan Levy as the sassy best friend and Aubrey Plaza as the not-so-evil-ex couldn’t make up for the problematic indignity of the forced closeting plotline.

But leave it to Ryan Murphy to give me just what I needed this quarantined holiday season – even without the traditional holiday trappings. The Prom is a sparkly bright adaptation of the Broadway musical about a teenaged lesbian, Emma, who lives in a small town in Indiana and just wants to dance at the prom with her girlfriend, Alyssa. The star-studded cast includes Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Cordon, and Andrew Rannells as narcissistic Broadway stars attempting to rehabilitate their damaged images with “celebrity activism” when Emma’s prom is cancelled by the PTA. Here we have a comfortably predictable plot, over-the-top caricatures, and a mixture of silly and sappy songs, belted out with feeling! Emma’s self-care is inspiring: she discovers her internal strength and breaks up with a closeted Alyssa after Alyssa elects to do nothing when everyone treats Emma like dirt, rather than standing up for her or even just going to her to comfort her. I rewound more than once to watch the show-stopper “Love Thy Neighbor,” in which Rannell’s character works to convince the bible-thumping teen bullies that this mandate trumps all other biblical rules and the hatred “stoked by centuries of intolerance… and the lack of a drama program.” This is the queer-affirming fare I was hoping for, and the kind of holiday magic I can get behind!

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