Sunday, January 31, 2021

Wasted Potential: PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

The more I think about Promising Young Woman, the less I think of it. The picture is a clever, even vital, concept driven straight off a cliff. This debut feature from Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell is a bubblegum poisoned pill, a movie so surface cutesy that its dark dark dark implications get gnarlier as they grow, and more than it knows. The film stars Carey Mulligan as an isolated, directionless millennial crossing 30 single, living with her patiently worried parents, and working at a coffee shop. Nights she spends in clubs and bars pretending to be drunk until a “nice guy” tries to take her home. Then, when she’s faking passing out on a couch or bed while the guy slobbers and gropes, she’ll sober up real quick and scare the living daylights out of him. This high-risk intimate PSA is her only real passion. Her best friend killed herself after a frat house rape was caught on tape, and went unpunished. This one-woman one-on-one scared-straight program is her way of getting her friend’s justice. Or so she thinks. The movie plunges into edgy territory as it intermingles a heroine’s righteous indignation and her self-destructive impulses, her sympathetic victimhood and queasy nastiness. Even when the picture feints at hope, you get the feeling it’s short-lived. Sure enough, the movie goes darker, driving its tone deeper into despair — foot-on-the-gas Thelma and Louise style — in a climax of spectacularly upsetting hollow catharsis, at best one of pyrrhic satisfactions. The shame, then, is how empty it feels, a film choppy, flat-footed, and scattershot, a shallow provocation chasing empty thrills and cheap twists masquerading as sociopolitical nerve.  

The movie is riven with inner contractions. It flattens Mulligan’s character—denied an inner life—and reduces the ensemble around her (no matter how astute the casting) to stock types. The film even makes Mulligan, a poised and sharp actress, an awkward fit, wobbling unconvincingly in a revenge plot that never quite pops off until it’s too late. It wants to make her the unambiguous hero of the film—those guys have it coming to ‘em, after all, since they’re on the precipice of date rape if she was actually drunk. But it also gives her moments of spectacular cruelty toward other women where they’re allowed to twist in psychological terror until the film, and its lead, pull back the rug and say, ah ha, you were fine all along, you dope. There’s an old college classmate (Alison Brie) set up to believe she’s been raped, when she wasn’t, and a straw-man college administrator (Connie Britton) who is made to think her high school daughter has been kidnapped and dropped into a frat party, when she wasn’t. Into our lead’s single-minded behavior appears a seemingly actual good guy (Bo Burnham) who our hero thinks she might be able to make a future with. Why her single-mindedness drops for him is never clear.  (And why she doesn’t know about a central reveal from the jump is pretty weird, as well.) And by the end, it makes her a fool, too, though it also tries to tell us her ultimate revenge succeeds. It wants it both ways, spending an entire movie telling us the whole system is corrupt and blind to women’s needs (not untrue) and taking that to its logical extreme, and then resting its entire climactic twist on the assumption that, I dunno, maybe the system might do it right for once? It ends up a moral crusade that’s morally bankrupt, an exploration of toxic dynamics (complete with a jabbing use of the Spears song) that's just plain toxic itself.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Voracious Filmgoer's Top Ten Films of 2020























1. Da 5 Bloods
2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
3. American Utopia
4. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
5. Soul
6. The King of Staten Island
7. Nomadland
8. The Photograph
9. The Vast of Night
10. Small Axe

Honorable Mentions:
All the Bright Places; All Together Now; The Assistant; Bad Education; Beastie Boys Story; City Hall; Collective; Corpus Christi; Dick Johnson is Dead; Driveways; Emma.; The Empty Man; Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds; First Cow; The Forty-Year-Old-Version; Fourteen; Gretel & Hansel; Greyhound; Hamilton; Happiest Season; The High Note; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; The Invisible Man; Kajillionaire; La Llorona; Let Him Go; Lost Bullet; Marc Maron: End Times Fun; On the Rocks; Premature; Run.; Shirley; Sophocles in Staten Island; Sound of Metal; Straight Up; Totally Under Control; The Trip to Greece; The Way Back; What the Constitution Means to Me 

Other 2020 Bests

Other 2020 Bests

Other 2020 Bests

Cinematography (Film):
The Forty-Year-Old Version
The King of Staten Island
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The Painted Bird
Wendy

Cinematography (Digital):
American Utopia
Da 5 Bloods
The Invisible Man
Shirley
The Vast of Night

Best Set/Art Direction:
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Gretel & Hansel
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Mank
Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best Hair and Makeup:
Black is King
Da 5 Bloods
Emma.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
The King of Staten Island

Best Costumes:
Black is King
Emma.
Gretel & Hansel
Mank
The Photograph

Best Stunts:
Bad Boys for Life
The Invisible Man
Lost Bullet
The Old Guard
Tenet



Best Sound:
The Invisible Man
Lovers Rock
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Vast of Night

Song:
“Double Trouble” — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Feels Like Home” — All Together Now
“Husavik” — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Jaja Ding Dong” — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Queen Bee” — Emma.

Score:
Da 5 Bloods
Emma.
The Photograph
Soul
Wendy

Effects:
Greyhound
The Invisible Man
Mank
Underwater
The Vast of Night

Screenplay (Adapted):
Emma.
Greyhound
The Invisible Man
Nomadland
Shirley

Screenplay (Original):
Da 5 Bloods
The King of Staten Island
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The Photograph
The Vast of Night

Best Editing:
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Da 5 Bloods
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
The Vast of Night

Best Animated Film:
The Croods: A New Age
Onward
Soul
Trolls World Tour
Wolfwalkers

Best Documentary:
American Utopia
Collective
Dick Johnson is Dead
Totally Under Control
What the Constitution Means to Me

Best Non-English Language Film:
Corpus Christi
La Llorona
Lost Bullet
Wasp Network
Zombi Child

Best Supporting Actress:
Chant√© Adams — The Photograph
Ellen Burstyn — Pieces of a Woman
Miranda Hart — Emma.
Justina Machado — All Together Now
Sierra McCormick — The Vast of Night

Best Supporting Actor:
Chadwick Boseman — Da 5 Bloods
Bill Burr — The King of Staten Island
Michael Martin — Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Rob Morgan — The Photograph
Shaun Parkes — Mangrove

Best Actor:
Ben Affleck — The Way Back
Bartosz Bielenia — Corpus Christi
John Boyega — Red, White and Blue
Delroy Lindo — Da 5 Bloods
Lakeith Stanfield — The Photograph

Best Actress:
Jessie Buckley — I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Frances McDormand — Nomadland
Elisabeth Moss — Shirley
Kristen Stewart — Happiest Season
Anya Taylor-Joy — Emma.

Best Director:
Eliza Hittman — Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Spike Lee — Da 5 Bloods
Steve McQueen — Small Axe
Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross — Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Chlo√© Zhao — Nomadland