Sunday, January 31, 2021


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.

No comments:

Post a Comment