Archives for June 2021

Promising Young Woman, disjointed muddled film

Cin­e­mas have been eeri­ly aban­doned for over a year now, and drift­ing past them through desert­ed city cen­tres felt at times like find­ing your­self in a scene from The Omega Man. So it’s per­fect­ly under­stand­able that we should all latch on to some of the new releas­es when they do sur­face and greet them much as a man in a desert might wel­come of bot­tle of bog stan­dard bot­tled water. None the less, the hoopla that Promis­ing Young Woman gen­er­at­ed was some­what baffling.

Basi­cal­ly, it harks back to those late 80s, ear­ly 90s zeit­geist movies that Hol­ly­wood peri­od­i­cal­ly grav­i­tates towards. The title of course ref­er­ences Sin­gle White Female, but what it feels like more than any­thing else is a riposte to Basic Instinct and Fatal Attrac­tion. Essen­tial­ly, it’s a revenge film for the Me Too era. And its prob­lems are twofold.

First, is it a revenge thriller? There’s a visu­al joke ear­ly on around a hot dog which is gen­uine­ly fun­ny and plays on the ques­tion of what exact­ly it was that our hero­ine did to her pre­vi­ous night’s ‘vic­tim’. But that ambi­gu­i­ty is nev­er resolved. 

Is this a good old-fash­ioned slash­er movie, and are we look­ing at a female answer to Charles Bron­son in Death Wish? Or is our hero­ine a com­plex, moral char­ac­ter care­ful­ly car­ry­ing out a pre­cise­ly cal­i­brat­ed plan?

Some have wel­comed this ambi­gu­i­ty as fur­ther evi­dence of the film’s charms. But all it means is that we’re nev­er sure of what kind of per­son she is, that is to say what type of char­ac­ter she rep­re­sents, and there­fore what kind of film it is that we’re watch­ing. This con­fu­sion is exac­er­bat­ed by the sec­ond of its prob­lems. Its structure.

Todd Solondz’ Hap­pi­ness.

Effec­tive­ly, it’s three films in one. It begins as what seems to be some sort of a revenge thriller come slash­er movie. Then it morphs into an impec­ca­bly craft­ed, very left of field indie, per­son­al dra­ma. The scenes inside the house with her par­ents are won­der­ful­ly claus­tro­pho­bic and feel like some­thing out of a Todd Solondz film. 

But sud­den­ly, about half way through, it lurch­es into rom com ter­ri­to­ry, as the Carey Mul­li­gan char­ac­ter hooks up with an ex class mate, played by Bo Burn­ham. But about 20 min­utes into this, it reverts back to revenge thriller mode.

The prob­lem is, Bo Burnham’s per­for­mance is so impres­sive­ly nat­u­ral­is­tic and so win­ning­ly believ­able in the rom com sec­tion that the rest of the film’s parts are thrown com­plete­ly out of kil­ter. Mul­li­gan of course, it almost goes with­out say­ing, is won­der­ful through­out. She adopts a stud­ied neu­tral­i­ty which man­ages to meld per­fect­ly with each of the film’s three modes. 

But the sec­tions with her par­ents, who are qui­et­ly man­nered and off, grate hor­ri­bly with the revenge movie sec­tions, in which the vil­lains, and for vil­lains read males, are paint­ed with such broad brush­strokes and are all so one dimen­sion­al they’re lit­tle more than car­toon car­i­ca­tures. Which would have been fine if the whole film had been like that. But it’s not. 

Mul­li­gan and Burn­ham are foot per­fect but they’ve wan­dered into a whole new film.

When, for instance, you meet those sorts of mous­tache-twid­dling vil­lains in the likes of Killing Eve, you either sit back and accept them or you turn over to some­thing else. That they should sur­face here makes com­pete sense as this is the fea­ture debut of Emer­ald Fen­nell, who was one of Killing Eve’s prin­ci­ple writ­ers and its show run­ner for sea­son 2. 

The prob­lem with Promis­ing Young Woman is that Fen­nell was unable to decide on exact­ly what kind of film she want­ed it to be. So unfor­tu­nate­ly, it just end­ed up as a mess. A very well made mess, with a pair of stand-out per­for­mances. But a mess none the less.

You can see the trail­er for Promis­ing Young Woman here.

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