Happiest Season is essentially a heist movie with the number of supporting cast members who steal scenes: Mary Holland walking off with a scene here, Dan Levy chewing scenery there, there’s even a cameo from Michelle Buteau. But Aubrey Plaza is the undisputed hero of the film.
“There is just something else going on with this movie that felt very important, to have a gay Christmas rom-com. It’s about time,” Plaza tells ET. “It needed to happen. I’ve been pushing for this kind of sh*t for years and nobody listens to me, and finally, people woke up and we did it.”
Clea DuVall’s queer Christmas rom-com stars Kristen Stewart as Abby, whose plans to propose to girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) while celebrating the holidays with the latter’s family are thrown for a loop when Abby learns Harper isn’t actually out to anyone back home. Except, that is, for Plaza’s character, Riley.
“Was that the Riley?” Abby teases after their first meeting, revealing this mysterious woman from Harper’s past is actually her first girlfriend. And while Riley could have been set up as a foil for Abby — in any other rom-com, she probably would have been — she instead becomes an ally. (And, we would argue, she should have become more!)
Riley is the frayed heart at the center of the movie, someone who’s been burned before but has not become bitter or cynical because of it. “I can relate to being in love with somebody that is too afraid to show the world who they are,” Riley tells Abby during one particularly poignant scene, in which she reveals Harper was the one who outed her in school to protect herself. She has every right to hate Harper, but given the opportunity, she chooses to support Abby. (Befriending your ex’s current partner is canonically queer.)
Riley is smart and sophisticated and witty and wears the hell out of a suit. Levy’s character may get the big, dramatic speech about what it’s like to be gay in this world, but Plaza’s Riley embodies it in the compassion she’s found through her own pain. That’s the queerest thing of all.
Riley deserved a happy ending of her own. The problem DuVall never could have counted on is Plaza and Stewart’s chemistry. Their connection onscreen feels so genuine, easy and comfortable and — honestly — hot. Their scenes together are some of the movie’s best, simmering with everything left unexplored. If you watched just the above trailer, you would think they were the movie’s endgame, right?
And thus, the least hot of all hot takes: Abby should have ended up with Riley. It’s not just us — and the entire internet — who says so. “I feel like Aubrey Plaza can have chemistry with, like, a tree,” Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara told my colleague, Stacy Lambe. (The duo are longtime friends of DuVall and recorded an original song for the soundtrack.)
“At the end of the day, I just like all the flirting between Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza. I was like, ‘Where’s that sequel?'” Quin added. “When I saw the movie the first time, I wrote Clea and I was like, ‘I hope you’re writing a New Year’s gay movie where Kristen Stewart cheats with Aubrey’s character!'”
Happiest Season is now streaming on Hulu.
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