Love them or hate them, mainstream romantic comedies are currently undergoing a renaissance. From Broadcast News to How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, rom-coms have a dense history of almost exclusively foregrounding white heterosexual couples, but in the past year, increased representation has diversified and invigorated the genre. Crazy Rich Asians notably features an all-Asian cast; Vietnamese-American actress Lana Condor stars as the lead in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before; Love, Simon is the first major studio entry in the genre to feature a gay protagonist.
Luckily, this refreshing deviation from the genre’s tropes shows no signs of slowing down. As reported by Variety, Kristen Stewart is in talks to star in Happiest Season — a holiday LGBTQ rom-com.
Happiest Season will follow a lesbian couple as they prepare to take their relationship to the next level. One of the women prepares to propose at a holiday get-together, only to learn that her girlfriend hasn’t yet come out to her conservative family. Clea DuVall will direct the film from a script she wrote with her screenwriting partner Mary Holland, and TriStar Pictures will oversee the project.
Best known for her work as an actress in such movies as Girl, Interrupted and But I’m a Cheerleader, DuVall is one of the most promising up-and-coming directors. In 2016, she released her debut film, the indie comedy The Intervention, and received some notable critical praise. The ensemble comedy showcases DuVall’s skill at balancing emotional, heavy-handed scenes with lighthearted comedy. If DuVall sticks to her naturally empathetic voice, Happiest Season — her first studio directorial effort — will deliver the essential ingredients for an effective rom-com: warmth, sincerity, and escapist fun.
Stewart’s casting elevates the initial intrigue of Happiest Season. The actress’ dynamic career ranges from blockbusters (Twilight, Snow White and the Huntsman), to American indie flicks (Into the Wild, Adventureland), to knockout European arthouse films (The Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper). She’s also currently filming Charlie’s Angels!
While the quality of her films range from lackluster and dull to excellent, Stewart consistently exudes a one-of-a-kind screen presence, one that conflates an understated vulnerability with a detached aloofness. Considering how she mostly stars in self-serious dramas, her upcoming foray into rom-com territory may seem surprising. But we can always rely on Stewart to give captivating, memorable performances, and the actresses proved her comedic chops last year on Saturday Night Live.
Men often direct and heterosexual women usually star in the few films centering on the lives of queer women, as we have seen with recent melodramas like Carol and Blue Is the Warmest Color. Even as accomplished and well-made films, Carol and Blue both suffer from a pervasive outsider perspective — Blue, in particular, has some cringey, male-gazey scenes. This, crucially, will not be the case with Happiest Season. Because Stewart and DuVall are two notable members of the LGBTQ+ community, the project will mark a rare instance of queer representation both in front of and behind the camera. With Stewart and DuVall’s involvement, the film is on the path to deliver authentic, attuned truisms on the coming out experience.
Critically, lesbians still haven’t been prominently featured in studio-produced rom-coms, in spite of the aforementioned recent strides in the genre. Generally, rom-coms allow us to indulge in romance at its most grandiose, fluffy, and idealized. Queer women deserve to watch, star, and write these schmaltzy, jovial stories just as much as their heterosexual peers. Lesbian representation should extend across all genres of film — not just angsty, artsy melodramas — and this especially applies to the holiday rom-com, a kitschy subgenre in desperate need of some more variety and revamping.
Happiest Season may not single-handedly revolutionize the articulation and depiction of the LGBTQ+ community in mainstream film. But the representation and actor/director prowess behind the project will ultimately increase the visibility of queer women in nuanced, representative rom-com narratives — and that matters.