HE to Friendo after seeing Promising Young Woman (Focus Features, 12.25): “This is a really well-made film…carefully honed, brittle attitude, super-dry dialogue, well shot…Carey Mulligan’s Cassie is shut down and seemingly ‘over’ from the get-go…burning rage, nihilism, chilly and icy but highly controlled. The film itself is that way…ice cubes, deliberate glacier-hood, calculating.
“It’s been described as a kind of #MeToo Death Wish thing, but it’s a much finer creation than Michael Winner’s 1974 film. And yet God, the ice water in its veins! So angry at chauvinist prick fuckheads that it can’t…well, it can see straight but it can’t cut anyone a break. The evil parties must pay and die, and the feeling of vengeance and wrath is such that it just HAS to splash over and soak Carey’s character…I’ll leave it at that.
“Director-writer Emerald Fennell’s decision to make Ryan, the ostensible nice guy pediatrician boyfriend (Bo Burnham, the director-writer of Eighth Grade)…the guy is suddenly presented as…uhm, flawed. And this character decision is REALLY ICE COLD. Bold and brave on Fennell’s part but colder than shit. For we’ve been led to believe that Ryan is the one nice guy — the totem that says ‘there are some decent guys out there…they’re not all pigs and fiends.’
“And yet one mark of exceptional artistic achievement is not being afraid to go all the way. PYW definitely goes for broke and then some. It doesn’t just despise the young male tribe of insensitive assholes out there — it wants them exterminated like insects.
“In a sense, PYW is lucky it’s coming out during the pandemic because it would die a VERY quick death in theatres.
“THAT SAID, it certainly has the unflinching courage of its convictions. It does not lose its nerve. And so it stays with you. But aside from #MeToo hardcores and critics with the ability or willingness to step back and respect it for refusing to back off, who is going to recommend or earnestly praise this thing?
“For me, the last film that had this much of an icy attitude was Neil Labute’s In The Company of Men. Another in this vein is Michel Franco’s New Order. A similar feeling of ruthless payback and punishment. PYW isn’t the least bit political while New Order is very much that, but they share a certain hard clarity or severity of mind.”
Friendo: “Not a bad film, but way too #MeToo for my taste. Total woke didacticism. Yes, the movie does have style; as a filmmaker, Fennell has real talent. I just think it’s philosophically kind of stunted. It didn’t stay with me at all, and the all-men-are-rapist-pigs didacticism was why.
“It’s not that I was offended by it; women have every right to traffic in that kind of movie mythology. In that sense, I would defend it just as I would defend Death Wish. But I would also describe it as extremely limited, as I’ve always found most reductionist male revenge fantasies.
“I agree with Jeff: the pandemic did it a favor. In a non-Covid theatrical market, I believe there would have been a staggering disconnect between its woke-to-the-nth-power Sundance-bubble reaction and its indie box-office performance, which I suspect would have been fairly minuscule.”