How Hulu has sold an updated take on the Christmas movie genre.
In The Happiest Season, out now on Hulu, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis play girlfriends Harper and Abby respectively, a happy couple who are about to put their relationship through a significant test: the holiday season. Specifically, they plan to visit Abby’s family for Christmas. Taking advantage of the celebration, Harper plans to propose to Abby while there.
Writer/director Clea DuVall’s story, though, adds the complication that unbeknownst to Harper, Abby’s family doesn’t know she’s gay. They believe instead that Abby is bringing her orphaned friend with nowhere else to go. Harper then begins to question much of their relationship, often with the support of her friend John (Dan Levy). The movie also stars Victor Garber, Mary Steenburgen, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and others.
Originally planned for a theatrical release by Sony Pictures, in October Hulu announced it had picked up the movie and would release it to streaming in late November. To date, the film has received largely positive reviews, giving it a solid 92% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Just one poster, which was released barely over a week prior to the film becoming available. The major cast, with Stewart and Davis in the forefront, are assembled in a picture as if they’re all part of the same photograph. How that photo is hanging cockeyed over the fireplace indicates how off-kilter the family – and story – is while festive holiday decorations visible around the frame make the setting of the action clear to the audience. It’s a fine, if innocuous, image but for the fact that all the faces save those of Stewart and Davis are clearly Photoshopped into place.
Released in mid-November, the trailer (6 million views on YouTube) starts by showing how much Abby is looking forward to meeting Harper’s family over Christmas. As they’re on their way, Harper breaks the news that her parents don’t know she’s gay, much less that she’s bringing her girlfriend with her. Instead, she’s told them Abby is an orphan with nowhere to go. Hilarity and awkwardness ensues, especially when Abby’s friend John gets involved.
Online and Social
Advertising and Promotions
The buzz-heavy cast was announced in January as the movie was heading into production. That filming was finished in late February, just before Covid-19-related shutdowns went into effect.
In the days leading up to release online ads like the one below were placed around the web, using the key art to encourage people to click over to the movie’s page on Hulu.
Short videos like this were produced and used both as organic promotions as well as paid ads.
Media and Press
First look stills accompanied by comments from Stewart, Levy and others were included in EW’s Fall Movie Preview.
Following the release of the trailer there were features on how Duvall worked to offer a twist on the holiday rom-com genre tropes as well as on Steenburgen feels about being a Christmas movie go-to player.
Themed gift packages of promotional items were sent to select members of the press.
Appropriately, there was significant coverage of the film in the LGBTQ press, including a cover story with multiple features in The Advocate as well as stories like this in Pride, all of which covered how DuVall and the cast worked to bring something new to the genre.
That same theme was carried over into much of the press, including additional interviews with DuVall as well as Stewart and the rest of the cast. There were also breakout profiles of Stewart, Davis and Brie along with more general holiday hijinks with the cast.
It’s hard not to be completely charmed by the campaign Hulu has put together in the space of less than a month. Some of the material was likely brought over from whatever Sony had already produced, but generating such significant buzz in so short a period is a testament to not only the strength of what’s presented here but also to the obvious passion of the audience that has been drawn to it in that time.
It benefits greatly from having such talented and outspoken talent like Stewart, DuVall, Davis and others involved, all of whom have reiterated the movie’s core value proposition – that it’s part of the “awkward family Christmas” genre while offering an updated variation on what’s come before – throughout their press activities. That it’s coming to streaming and not theaters allows it to reach more of the audience immediately, which will likely help its prospects for success.