A Stiletto in the Back
- Promising Young Woman review by CH
In recent weeks there has been as much publicity for Promising Young Woman as Blake Bailey's huge biography of Philip Roth. And in the past couple of days, the latter has taken a twist, its distribution halted by the publisher amidst allegations that the author is as prone to the forced seductions favoured by his subject.
Which is the very material of Emerald Fennell's first film. To have read or - scanned through – articles, one soon learnt that, in revenge for a friend being raped, Carey Mulligan exchanges a quiet daytime life behind a coffee bar for one of dressing provocatively and affecting drunkenness during a night on the town where she picks up men, and at the moment they are about to take the plunge, she reveals all (as it were): it is as though Philip Roth were kicked in the balls, even - one might infer - killed.
Having read of this, one might fear that the film itself could prove repetitive – one incident the same as another. The twist in all this is that it proves to be ingeniously varied. Without giving away too much, there is a moment when it appears about to mutate – happily ever after - into a romantic comedy.
The other surprise is that it turns out to be set in America, which makes sense: the country's turbulence is at the heart (if that's the word) of events here, although, of course, such self-styled lotharios populate the planet. It is a dark film, literally so, its colours, often red, suggest a well-nigh subterranean world of displaced morals: the work of cinematographer Benjamin Kracon while, for my taste, the music (the score by Anthony Willis and the use of songs by Britney Spears among others) is mixed rather too much to the fore of a story which is strong enough to carry itself.
Not only Carey Mulligan but many of the other women (of all ages) give terrific performances; by contrast, most of the men, such as potential boyfriend Bo Burnham, appear to have strayed from bachelor-party territory – then again, that is perhaps the point. For all its being rooted in terrible reality, it has appeared to some as unlikely; in fact, it should be regarded as Jacobean, a period when plays took many a savage turn while shifts in mood could include comedy (the Gravedigger being the most obvious). And in that spirit, five centuries on, Emerald Fennell worked swiftly, filming this in three weeks. As a début, it has the brio of Truffaut's one – and brings to mind one which nobody has mentioned: Richard Gere's. He was in the very good film made from Judith Rossner's brilliant novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), whose singles-bar terrain is the mirror-image of all this.
5 out of 8 members found this review helpful.
Bland drama of talking heads
- Promising Young Woman review by Alphaville
A Sky-backed visually-impaired film for the small-screen generation, more a play than a film. Expect long drawn-out dialogue scenes of talking heads. Any good reviews it has received all talk about the concept, as if it’s conceptual art, where lack of skill in execution is irrelevant. The concept, to attract punters, is a feminist revenge thriller. Thrills? If only. The trailer uses fast edits and exciting music to lure you in. Don’t be fooled.
Naturally all the men are stupid, sexist and pitiable, ripe to be put in their place. On its own the script has some good dialogue and might work on stage, but anyone who loves a good movie is in for a long haul to get through this. Something does happen near the end. Ho-hum.
As with her last film, the equally staid Vita and Virginia, director Emerald Fennell has no idea what to do with a camera so just plonks it down and wrings the life out of every scene. She should stick to writing. To see how to make an enthralling feminist film with real characters and big-screen skill, check out Mimi Leder’s On the Basis of Sex.
4 out of 6 members found this review helpful.
Feminist revenge-tale with lots of punches
- Promising Young Woman review by PD
This very watchable piece starts as a straightforward revenge tale, but director Emerald Fennell has an awful lot of tricks up her sleeve, exploring Cassandra’s vigilante campaign from different angles, such as her relationship with her parents, who've all but given up on her, and what happens when, in the midst of a non-too subtle tale of 'all men are bastards', one of her targets shows genuine remorse for what he’s done, or, even more poignantly, when Cassandra meets a man she actually likes. Shifting tones keep us going despite the various plot implausibilities (and there are rather too many of these for comfort), and also of interest is the fact that Cassandra is not simply a righteous avenger.
The fact that a film with such disturbing elements is so accessible is a testimony to the cleverness of the writing, and it's a plain as day that questions over 'rape culture' deserves some serious treatment - the film works very hard at making us think: consent, or lack thereof, is obviously foregrounded, but academia’s leniency toward male students accused of rape and assault is another important one. One of the film’s most provocative if rather under-explored elements is its interrogation of alcohol and the role it plays in consent; Cassandra hates men who victimize drunk women, but isn’t above drugging a drink if it’ll assist in her mission. Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan successfully portrays plays Cassie as a woman who’s been robbed of joy, leaving her exhausted and distrustful.
Unfortunately, there's quite a few weaker elements which rob the film of some of its potential power. To begin with, a lot of the psychology portrayed here remains on the highly superficial side. Cassie’s motivations are questionable - she coaxes out men's worst impulses to prove to herself, and to us, that all men are terrible, and the film's conclusion—not only are men just as bad as you always thought they were, they’re worse—is an all-too easy one to reach, not a hard one. And whilst we're invited to be her accomplice there's some highly questionable tactics - in one particularly strange sequence, Cassie lures a teenage girl into her car for what looks to be a nefarious purpose, and whilst Fennell resolves the episode in a jaunty way—not even Cassie would go that far— the scene still leaves a bad taste, flirting disturbingly with the idea that it’s fine to corrupt innocent girls as long as the goal is to punish bad men. At times this laudably feminist manifesto (women are indeed angry for good reasons) rather undermines itself by being overly cynical without being particularly perceptive. So all in all a film which has a lot of punches but doesn't always land them all effectively.
3 out of 6 members found this review helpful.