Hulu’s newest lesbian Christmas movie, “Happiest Season,” was released in late November. The holiday movie begins when Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invites her girlfriend, Abby (Kristen Stewart), to celebrate Christmas with her family. However, it is only when they are driving to her family’s home that Harper tells Abby that Harper hasn’t come out to her family yet. Abby reluctantly agrees to keep their romantic relationship a secret, and Harper promises to come out to her parents after the holidays are over.
Even if you haven’t seen “Happiest Season,” you probably know at least one thing about the movie: Aubrey Plaza is in it. She isn’t even a main character in the film, but the icon captured fans’ hearts with her dry humor, intense eye contact and stylish suits. Fans took to Twitter and TikTok to share their appreciation for Plaza, making memes, fan-edits and one even went so far as to create an alternative ending to the movie.
Plaza herself admitted in an interview that she “hopes that people walk away from the movie and they’re disappointed that Kristen Stewart didn’t end up with my character, and they like, riot in the streets about it.” Here’s why it makes sense that fans were awestruck by Plaza’s character, Riley.
Riley Offers Support to Harper in a Difficult Situation
When Riley overhears Abby’s phone conversation, Riley tells Abby that she understands what Abby is going through, because Harper put Riley through a similar experience in high school. The two had a very close relationship. When their friends found out, Harper denied the relationship and told her friends that Riley was obsessed with her in order to protect her reputation.
As Harper hides her true self from her family, she forces Abby into hiding as well. Riley is a breath of fresh air because of her self-acceptance. She also rocks a suit and captivates the audience with sexy icy stares.
“With Riley, I wanted to give Abby comfort in a hard situation. I’m friends with queer women. We have special connections,” director Clea DuVall said. However, she defends her ending by explaining, “That doesn’t mean that when my relationship hits a rough patch that I’m gonna run off with them. Even if it’s Aubrey Plaza!”
Harper Was An Unsupportive Partner
Despite reassuring Abby that she would be there for her during the holidays, Harper is not attentive to Abby’s needs. At one point in the movie, Abby lays in bed and looks at her phone; she sent Harper a message asking her to text her when she gets home because she is going to sleep. She hovers over the texts, takes a deep breath and sends “Goodnight,” which confirms that the other text had been sent an hour before, and Abby was probably waiting up for a response. For me, this scene captures Stewart’s character at her most vulnerable, and accurately represents what it feels like to feel unsupported in a relationship.
As someone who lost both her parents at age 19, Abby is probably susceptible to feelings of abandonment. Her past makes it painful for viewers to watch as she sits exiled to the basement of her girlfriend’s house, while Harper is at the bar talking to her ex-boyfriend until 2 a.m. Abby needs validation in a very lonely situation, and during the holidays no less, which Harper knows is a difficult time for her. Throughout the movie, Harper seems dismissive of Abby’s feelings while prioritizing her family’s perception of her. Therefore, fans watching “Happiest Season” gravitated toward Riley and hoped that Abby would leave Harper for Plaza’s character.
“The choice seemed clear to me: A life of drag queens, safe spaces, and sharing booths with Aubrey Plaza, or a lifetime of straight bars, creepy white families, and code-switching with Mackenzie Davis,” Jill Gutowitz explained in her argument for why Abby should have ended up with Riley.
Aubrey Plaza (and Dan Levy) Carried “Happiest Season,” According to Fans
While “Happiest Season” gave representation to a queer relationship that deviates from that of your typical Hallmark movie, its direction and dialogue did not feel very fresh. The comedy in the movie often came across as uncomfortable and cringey. It relied on tired tropes, such as the mall security guards that take their job too seriously and competitive sisters engaged in physical battles.
Among the many tweeted memes about Plaza, a recurrent theme was that Plaza carried the movie, seen in this tweet, with 3,000 likes. The moments where Stewart’s character interacts with her friend John (Dan Levy) and Plaza’s character were some of the most enjoyable in the film. Levy plays Abby’s best friend who calls periodically to check up on her. He even shows up to rescue her near the end of the film. His effortless comedic style adds depth and joy to the film. John also contextualizes Harper’s struggle to come out to her family by sharing his own painful coming out experience when his father kicked him out of the house.
— Giulia Heyward (@giuliaheyward) November 26, 2020
Final Takeaways on “Happiest Season”
It should be noted that fans were not criticizing Harper’s character for not being ready to come out to her family, but instead for lying to Abby throughout the movie. Although the director described Harper’s actions as a “rough patch” in their relationship, movie viewers picked up on the fact that her actions were most likely integral to her character rather than an aberration. Fans of “Happiest Season” were justified in wanting better for Abby, and better for queer holiday movies in general.