Remember long ago, in the before times, when the Hallmark Channel pulled an ad that featured a kiss between a newlywed lesbian couple, then apologized for pulling the commercial? That was in 2019. Now in 2020, Hallmark has its own LGBTQ-friendly film. “The Christmas House” is one of six new original holiday films released since November with something rare — main characters in same-sex relationships. Of course, one film featuring a gay couple out of 40 new films on Hallmark may seem like a token, but what's groundbreaking is the fact that the couple (actors Jonathon Bennett and Brad Harder) are accepted with no drama as part of the family.
If ratings are an indication, the move toward LGBTQ storylines isn’t a fluke. Hallmark said “The Christmas House” attracted over 2 million total viewers in its premiere in November. “Happiest Season” got the biggest audience for any Hulu original film in its opening weekend, according to Hulu. Having a big name star like Kristen Stewart certainly helped, but director and cowriter Clea DuVall thinks it's more than that. “It’s the start of something bigger,” said DuVall. “Networks and streamers are starting to see the value in telling these stories that have always been there but were not given the platform to get out to wider audiences.”
It's refreshing to see a holiday movie that follows the typical storyline: young city gal finds love in the suburbs/hometown and understands the true meaning of Christmas, only now the star-crossed lovers are LGBTQ. It's groundbreaking in this faux normalcy because the whole premise is schmaltzy to begin with. “Happiest Season” follows the typical holiday paradigm, except it's also a coming out story. And the girl that Kristen Stewart's Abby meets in the ’burbs (played adorably by Aubrey Plaza) is the spurned ex-girlfriend. The storyline tricks you into wanting Abby to leave her conflicted girlfriend but instead there’s a great speech by her gay best friend, John (Daniel Levy). He tells Abby (and us) that you can never know when the right time is for someone else to come out. Once those words are said, they can't be unspoken and everything will change.
“The Prom” features a coming out story as well. Oddly enough, James Corden’s character tells his tragic story first. The Broadway stars that come to "rescue" the young lesbian who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom tend to take over the movie. Their egos are over the top in a humorous way but it distracts from the endearing performance of Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman) and her love interest, the closeted Alyssa (Ariana DeBose). I didn't find James Corden's performance any more over-the-top than say, Meryl Streep's. They are, after all, the comedic relief. There's been a lot of criticism that this role should've gone to an openly gay actor, but I think Corden had a nice emotional arc, plus, he can sing and dance. Director Ryan Murphy, out and proud, must've had his reasons; likely box office appeal.
Both films are joyful, star-filled rom-coms and end with lessons learned. There are parents who transform from staunchly conservative to supportive in one or two scene changes. Who would've guessed that 2020 was going to be the year that you'd have your choice of LGBTQ films? Films that are uplifting and end with that lovely holiday fairytale lesson that true love conquers all.
Drinks with Films rating
“Happiest Season:” 2 bottles of beer, clutched nervously as you watch your girlfriend pretend you don’t exist, out of 5.
“The Prom:” 2 fancy cocktails, sipped nervously as you wait for the Broadway reviews to roll in, out of 5.