A Love Letter To Aubrey Plaza in ‘Happiest Season’, The Christmas Lesbian Of My Dreams

I doubt a straight woman would have been able to embody the dyke energy needed to pull off those power suits and blazers.

Aubrey Plaza Happiest Season

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Happiest Season, 2020’s much hyped lesbian Christmas rom-com, managed to deliver us one of the best characters of queer film history — Aubrey Plaza as Harper’s beautiful ex-girlfriend, Riley.

The internet is already splattered with pieces on how Abby should have ditched Harper for Riley, and I quite agree. Not only was Harper manipulative and mean, but she left Abby to hang out with her ex-boyfriend — and then gaslit the fuck out of her when questioned about it. And all the while, Riley, sweet, smart, gorgeous Riley, is there to support Abby through her first proper Christmas since her parents died ten years ago.

I already knew that Aubrey Plaza’s character, no matter what she was like, was going to be my highlight of the film.

We all saw that high angle shot of her with her low cut dress and red wine, making positively sinful eye contact with Kristen Stewart. I slapped my girlfriend on the leg out of excitement when that scene played out in the cinema.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was quite how much I would really love and relate to Riley. Not only was she outed during high school, but she was outed by Harper, her very first girlfriend, who completely threw her under the bus and probably ruined the rest of her high school life. Despite all the trauma that must have caused, she went on to become a doctor at a prestigious university, and was able to be cordial and kind when faced with Harper and her new girlfriend years later. I know the movie probably wanted Riley to be a symbol of forgiveness, that if she could forgive Harper for breaking her little fifteen-year-old heart and broadcasting her sexuality to the town, then surely the audience could forgive her transgressions too — but it only made me hate Harper and love Riley even more.

So many of Plaza’s roles have her typecast as a cynical, perhaps sometimes evil manic pixie dream girl type- manic goblin dream hag, let’s say. I grew up watching her as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation, with her deadpan delivery and take no shit attitude — characteristics much appreciated in the lesbian community. Marrying the worst straight man character played by the worst straight man actor? Not so much. Which is why it’s so delightful that in Happiest Season, she gets to play one of the warmest characters on screen.

She embodies an Absolute Dream Lesbian.

When Harper abandons Abby for some important fancy dinner, Riley ushers her under her blazered wing, and they go to a gay bar and sing a Christmas song with Jinkx Monsoon andBenDeLaCreme, which sounds like something from a gay fever dream.

Riley knows what Harper’s family is like, and that Harper isn’t supporting her girlfriend properly, so she steps in to do it for her. Even though she’s her ex-girlfriend’s girlfriend, there’s no way she’s leaving another queer out in the cold. I don’t know what it is about sapphics and our culture around exes, but Riley was a beautiful representation of that. The joy she emulates is brought into sharp contrast with Harper’s when she texts Abby to meet her at a bar called, I shit you not, ‘Fratty’s’, and the cosy reds and purples of the gay bar are replaced with harsh blues and the straight friends downing tequila shots to make the place bearable.

Of course, so much of Riley’s characterisation is down to Aubrey Plaza’s casting.

It is always so delightful seeing a queer character played by a queer actor, and Plaza is no exception. I doubt a straight woman would have been able to embody the dyke energy needed to pull off those power suits and blazers, and it almost certainly contributed to the spark between Abby and Riley that Harper lacked. The pair were absolutely electric, and I’m sure someone will pair them up in a fun romcom or cool spy movie soon (Charlie’s Angels sequel anyone??).

Ultimately, the movie would have been a lot worse without her, and I hope Abby wisens up and breaks off her engagement to run away with stunning Doctor Riley. I don’t think any of the cast or crew were prepared for just how much of a scene stealer Riley would be, which is truly just a testament to Plaza’s inherent gay power. She has been beloved by the queers for years, and I for one can vividly remember rejoicing in my room at age seventeen when she came out as bi. Seeing her thrive in her first queer role warms my little lesbian heart.

If you had any qualms about going to see Happiest Season, I sympathise because it is a bit rocky, but Aubrey Plaza is out here giving it her all for the gays. If you feel even the faintest quiver of longing in your heart when you see those shots from the balcony, or the catching of your breath when she’s in that blazer, you simply must go and see it.

I would truly risk it all for that woman.

Lydia Jupp is a freelance journalist who writes about gender, queerness, culture, and politics. You can find more of her work and an abundance of youthful existential crises over on her Twitter @lydiarosejupp.