Aubrey Plaza has once again become a hot topic thanks to her stellar turn in season 2 of HBO’s satirical black comedy The White Lotus. Her performance already earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and Emmy recognition is sure to follow.

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Since her breakthrough role in the beloved sitcom Parks and Recreation, Plaza has been one of Hollywood’s hardest-working actors. Her unique brand of deadpan, black, slightly sinister humor has made her instantly recognizable and has given her movies an edge. And while many talented comedians are working in the business, few have Plaza’s gift to excel at black comedy.

Harper Spiller – ‘The White Lotus’ (2021 – )

Harper looking at Ethan with a serious expression at the hotel restaurant in The White Lotus.
Image via HBO Max

Plaza’s most recent role is also one of her best. In the hilarious and meme-able The White Lotus season 2, Plaza plays Harper Spiller, the stiff and perceptive wife of a young entrepreneur who recently came to great wealth. Harper becomes increasingly distrustful of her husband and his friends throughout the season, leading to complicated and unforeseen results.

Harper is one of the season’s leading figures, and Plaza rises to the challenge. Playing a more subdued and less zany character, Plaza is the living, breathing embodiment of anxiety before turning the tables on her husband. It’s a tricky act to pull, but Plaza excels by avoiding theatricality and instead focusing on the tense and quiet moments where the truth lurks from the shadows.

Allison – ‘Black Bear’ (2020)

Allison crying while holding on to a man's leg in Black Bear.

Black Bear is an independent black comedy thriller written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine. Plaza stars as Allison, an actor-turned-director looking for inspiration who travels to a secluded cabin as the guest of a couple going through relationship difficulties.

Confusing but still satisfying, Black Bear is an insightful look into the creative mind. The film showcases Plaza’s top qualities – awkward yet confident interactions that take others by surprise, ironic and acidic line deliveries and discomforting sequences that challenge the audience – and exploits them to their fullest. Black Bear might be tough to understand, but the experience is worth the effort.

Riley Johnson – ‘Happiest Season’ (2020)

Riley and Abby talking at a party in Happiest Season.

Hollywood is making a conscious effort to give audiences great Queer Christmas movies every year, and 2020’s Happiest Season is the perfect proof. Kristen Stewart plays Abby, a young woman forced to pose as her still-closeted girlfriend’s roommate while spending the holidays with her family.

Plaza plays Riley, Abby’s girlfriend’s ex, who sympathizes with Abby’s struggle. It’s a supporting performance to the tee, but one that understands Plaza’s strengths as a performer and uses them to the fullest. Plaza steals each of her scenes, playing a cool and alluring character that toys with the stereotypes of the “hot ex-girlfriend” without fully embracing them.

Ingrid Thorburn – ‘Ingrid Goes West’ (2017)

Ingid and Taylor at the desert posing for a photo while doing the peace sign in Ingrid Goes West.

Elizabeth Olsen joins Plaza in the 2017 satirical comedy Ingrid Goes West. The plot centers on a young woman living with mental health issues who becomes obsessed with a social media influencer and seeks to become her friend.

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Elevated by Plaza and Olsen’s wickedly delicious performances, Ingrid Goes West is the perfect satire on social media culture. The film offers poignant observations about celebrity and society’s obsession with fame and relevance, riding on the back of Plaza’s unnerving, deeply sympathetic performance. Plaza is a master at blending humor and tragedy, and Ingrid Goes West is one of her finest hours.

Beth Slocum – ‘Life After Beth’ (2014)

A man crouching next to his girlfriend who has turned into a zombie in Life After Beth.

Great zombie comedies stand out because of their unique and disruptive approach to an already unique and disruptive genre. Life After Beth might not be one of the niche genre’s best offerings, but it is a great example of how gifted Plaza is. The plot follows Zach, a young man whose recently-deceased girlfriend returns to life much different than he remembers.

Plaza is Life After Beth‘s saving grace. The film is surprisingly tame, considering its gonzo premise, and not even a game cast can elevate it. Still, Plaza does more than enough to support the film, going all-in when portraying the increasingly erratic Beth. It’s a challenging performance, particularly near the end, but Plaza never fully lets go of Beth’s humanity, crafting a hilariously awkward portrayal of zombiism.

Tatiana Darcy – ‘Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates’ (2016)

Tatiana and Alice looking in the same direction in Mike And Dave Need Wedding Dates.

Plaza joins forces with Academy Award nominee Anna Kendrick in the R-rated comedy Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, co-starring Zac Efron and Adam Devine. The story follows two brothers who put up an ad to find wedding dates, attracting a pair of slacker young girls looking for a free holiday.

Like most R-rated comedies of the 2010s, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates thinks vulgarity equals hilarity. However, the film is elevated by its impressive quartet of talented actors. Plaza makes an interesting couple with Devine, whose self-consciousness is the perfect foil to Plaza’s now-legendary awkwardness.

Fernanda – ‘The Little Hours’ (2017)

Sister Fernanda yelling at Massetto in The Little Hours.
Image via Gunpowder & Sky

The ever-underrated Alison Brie leads an ensemble cast that includes husband Dave Franco in 2017’s anachronistic black comedy The Little Hours. Set in the 14th century, the film follows three nuns who try to have sex with a young gardener posing as a deaf-mute to escape punishment from his Lord.

Co-starring the scene-stealing Kate Micucci, The Little Hours is a showcase for Brie, Micucci, and Plaza. As the trio of nuns, the three actresses let their freak flag fly. Plaza, playing a violent sadist with ties to a coven of witches, might be the film’s highlight, embracing the story’s macabre tones and imbuing them with unabashed bravado.

Laura Feinberg – ‘Little Demon’ (2022 – )

Laura with her hands on her waist looking to the distance in Little Demon

Animation is undergoing a golden period on television, especially projects aimed at adults. FXX’s Little Demon follows Laura, a single mother who, 13 years after being impregnated by the Devil, tries to raise her Antichrist daughter Chrissy in Delaware.

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With a daring premise and a top-notch cast led by Plaza and Danny DeVito, Little Demon is a refreshingly subversive comedy with plenty of bite. Plaza voices Laura with conviction and heavy doses of irony, creating a unique portrayal of motherhood and badassery. Leave it to Plaza to inject so much personality into an animated character.

Julie Powers – ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World’ (2010)

Julie Powers looking angrily at someone off-camera in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World.
Image via Universal Pictures

There are cult classic movies, and then there’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, one of the defining films of the 2000s. The film follows a twenty-something slacker who must fight against a group of powerful ex-boyfriends to win a young woman’s heart.

Scott Pilgrim has one of the most impressive casts in modern cinematic history, including Michael Cera, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans and Brandon Routh. Plaza plays the small but scene-stealing role of Julie Powers, a foul-mouthed and perpetually angry acquaintance of Scott. In a film full of memorable gags, Plaza’s Julie might have the best one, and the actor makes the most out of her limited but hilarious screen time.

April Ludgate – ‘Parks And Recreation’ (2009 – 2015)

Andy and April cuddling on a chair in Parks And Recreation.

The beloved sitcom Parks and Recreation starred Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope, an idealistic employee at the Parks Department in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. The show featured a large ensemble cast, including Rashida Jones, Rob Lowe, Adam Scott, Chris Pratt and Plaza.

April Ludgate arguably remains Plaza’s most iconic role. It cemented her trademark dark persona and placed her among the most recognizable actors on television. April provided the necessary bite that prevented Parks from going overboard with its brand of shameless positivity, making Plaza one of the show’s most unforgettable characters.

NEXT: The Best Aubrey Plaza Movies, According To IMDb

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