Over his decades long career, Steven Spielberg has made his very first musical. Nonetheless, Spielberg has also established that he had always wanted to try his hands at bringing a musical to the big screen with a second cinematic adaptation of West Side Story, following the 1961 film. It’d be easy enough to express skepticism to the need for a new West Side Story film, but Spielberg establishes that the material is a perfect match for him. Spielberg doesn’t work with creating a pastiche of the 1961 film as much as he does create a new screen life for one of Broadway’s most beloved musicals. In doing so, Spielberg has made what may be his best film in at least fifteen years.
The start of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is one that already feels very indicative of an entire culture that’s been enabling men to be at their absolute worst, especially regarding their treatment of women – even after the prominence of the Me Too movement in recent years. But the moment you see Carey Mulligan finally arise to put the supposed “nice guy” back in his place, Fennell’s film starts to show its true colours – and that’s all among the most admirable aspects that shines thoroughly in this new take on the rape and revenge story. What follows from then on, what Promising Young Woman will provide will not leave your head either.
In the starring role is Carey Mulligan, playing Cassie Thomas. We’re introduced to Cassie at a bar, seemingly drunk, before being taken in by a man that introduces himself as a “nice guy,” perfectly setting the tone for this would-be revenge thriller. Cassie, having been traumatized by the rape and eventual death of her best friend Nina, seeks to exact vengeance upon those who have led her down this path. What soon follows is not any other revenge thriller but rather an interrogation of rape culture, taking on that same structure we’ve come to recognize over the years. What’s happened to Nina is thankfully never shown in the film, but in seeing how her tragedy is what pushes Cassie on
Emerald Fennell’s goal is an admirable one; and during its peaks, Promising Young Woman takes such a bold stance with regards to how people are far too willing to cast doubts on an accusation of rape – and ultimately where it leads. From the first moment onward, you’re seeing the perfect way in which a supposed “nice guy” can really have that cover blown off by what they’re ultimately tempted to take upon themselves (as shown again through a brilliant scene with Christopher Mintz-Plasse later on in the film), contrasting the fantasy that many rape-and-revenge thrillers of the past have created. We’ve seen in the film’s marketing, every man’s worst nightmare is getting accused of rape – but why must that overpower the fact that women in Cassie’s position have feared men who take that “nice guy” stance to their advantage?
At the center of this film is a career best performance from the always wonderful Carey Mulligan. In how she personifies Cassie, that vengeful spirit damaged by a person whom she loved so much having been taken away from her so cruelly after what she had undergone, Mulligan puts her all into that role. She manages to be both endearing and intimidating in the best possible ways, like the best-crafted heroes of these revenge films can be, going from Ms .45 or Lady Snowblood, leaving you with that idea she could easily be among those ranks. There’s never a moment where she’s onscreen where you’ll ever find yourself looking away out of fear, but curiosity for what she’ll do to the next man who dares cross her.
Surely enough, this movie will prove itself divisive – with the look of a rape-and-revenge thriller it can’t quite escape that feeling it’ll be exploitative and not enough at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s a refreshing feeling coming out from Fennell not showing Nina’s rape, because it’s something we’d seen too many times but the effect upon which it has left upon Cassie can still be felt. In seeing how it all adds up, Cassie has now turned towards the destructive, towards the people around her – but even to her own self. But there comes a question we ask ourselves about the devastating reality which the film’s ending proposes to its audience. Personally, I cannot say I am sure that it entirely works – but it becomes near impossible to delve into what the film proposes at said moment without spoiling it for those who have not seen it, so I cannot say much at the very moment.
Although I acknowledge my reservations about the direction in which the film had gone ultimately keep me from loving it, I can’t help but feel as if there will be many important talks about the way in which we approach rape culture coming forth as a result of how Promising Young Woman puts many of these positions to the test. In its moments of dark comedy it still flashes you with a more devastating picture, one that combats the culture which has only been perpetuated over the years by constantly buying into the “nice guy” mirage. At its very best, you still have a film that perfectly replicates the look you’d want a film of this sort to take on, but I can’t shake off that feeling that where it becomes too much, it turns itself into too little at the same time. When Emerald Fennell comes out with a new film, I do look forward to seeing how it will turn out.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Focus Features.
Directed by Emerald Fennell Screenplay by Emerald Fennell Produced by Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton Release Date: December 25, 2020 Running Time: 113 minutes
David Lynch’s Wild at Heart received the Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, yet it still seems to have remained heavily underrated in his filmography. Among many things that one could ever find themselves loving about Wild at Heart, it’s also like looking at a new side of the David Lynch that one would be familiar with and even if the sudden shift in tone may not work for the most dedicated of his fans, it still results in what I see to be one of his most beautiful films by far. If there’s any other way to describe Wild at Heart, it would only be fitting to describe it as the happiest film that David Lynch might ever leave us behind with, but it still perfectly blends together all the distinctive elements of surrealism in order to create one of the most romantic movies that could ever have been made too.
There’s something scary about the mere thought that what you’re witnessing in Queen & Slim could be very well happening today. Yet there’s a greater resonance that comes forth from how the stories of many black lives across the United States have been immortalized – most often not for their achievements, but as symbols against racism after their lives have unjustly been cut short. In this feature debut from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells a story of a modern day Bonnie & Clyde – lovers who are on the run from the law, after having been thrusted into a life or death situation. What soon follows is a harrowing, if occasionally frustrating tale of life or death, with a dash of social relevance within today’s political climate.
It’s easy to remember the films that sparked your own love of film at one point of your life or another, and during my early teens, one of those films was none other than Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. As an impressionable teenager who was pushing myself to watch more films in general, I remember first watching this on a television broadcast and I’ve been watching it again and again every chance I had; whether it be on subsequent reruns or at my own home to that point where every beat had been rooted so deeply in my head. And although it may not be my favourite Martin Scorsese film, it still encapsulates everything that I find to be what makes his work so wholly wonderful.
As he nears his eighties, it’s impressive to think about how Martin Scorsese manages to find new ways to push the possibilities of what the medium of film can accomplish even as he continues treading familiar subject matter. And after having remained in development hell for so many years, he releases The Irishman for Netflix, which resulted in possibly his most expensive film and longest film to date, but considering the sort of original content that Netflix has been known to fund over the years it’s almost incredible to think that they would let Scorsese make a film of this sort with a budget that almost matches up with a modern superhero film. As familiar as the subject matter would be to many Scorsese fans, those entering expecting another GoodFellas or Casino will find themselves in for a whole other ride entirely; this may be one of his best films in recent memory too.
It’s always astonishing to me how a director like Takashi Miike is able to push himself into making so many films compared to his own lifespan. There’ll come a point where I’d even find myself asking about how he remains so consistent with having made so many films with that same distinguishable style – but the fact that he’s still able to provide so many of these films would be more than enough to say that the Japanese film industry would never be the same without him. With his latest film, First Love, Takashi Miike does not quite enter new territory just yet but it does not make his films any less entertaining than they always are to watch. But even the tamest of Takashi Miike’s style of filmmaking can also have some of its more interesting aspects to observe and with First Love, he still provides an entertaining ride from start to finish.
It’s always been said that Adam Sandler has it in him to be one of the best actors of his own kind but his choice to stick within the same Happy Madison circle has also hindered him from showing exactly that. As shown through his work in Punch-Drunk Love and The Meyerowitz Stories, he also shows that he can carry more restraint to that familiar comedic persona he is known for and turn out a great performance too. Though to call a pairing of him together with the Safdie brothers unexpected would only be underestimating what it is that makes Uncut Gems every bit as wonderful as it is. This new crime thriller from the team behind Heaven Knows What and Good Time haven’t simply created what might be the darkest film you’d ever see someone like Adam Sandler starring in, but like their preceding films you can only take so much of that adrenaline-like energy flowing through the ride, and that’s how you know it only gets better.
J. C. Chandor’s filmography has only been shifting in scale in some sense but maybe not always to the most consistent of results. His fourth feature, being his first one in five years since A Most Violent Year happens to be his most expensive project yet, sadly also happens to be his worst feature to date. With how much Margin Call and All is Lost have managed to accomplish with what little they had around them, and despite A Most Violent Year showing promise for Chandor to go for much bigger projects, it seems like the increasing scale may also have gotten the worst of him too. Triple Frontier if anything seems so much more like a film that’s overwhelmed by its incredible scale rather than one that is able to work properly within what’s been given to Chandor, but there’s almost no control over what it is that he wants to show us here – so much to the point it even makes its more dramatic moments feel as if they’re not even capable of carrying any weight.
David Lynch’s films are so easy to characterize for carrying a weird aura that only he could ever perfect, yet the world that we’re seeing in Blue Velvet is one that is as ordinary as they get. Yet it’s also what makes everything about Blue Velvet so wonderful too, because it invokes his viewers to look at the world that they know a whole other way, beneath the cracks of the perfections in the “ordinary” as David Lynch brings you to see the underworlds that take the screen. It’s all a part of what makes Blue Velvet so intriguing too, because it’s characteristic of everything that has fascinated David Lynch through his long career in the form of a neo-noir mystery, yet it also happens to be one of the very best films of that sort too. Some can even say that a film like this best captures what also is best described as David Lynch’s America, for his subversion of the idealized lifestyle brings you on a journey of innocence slowly fading away through the exposure to a dark underworld unlike any other. You’re taken into a strange world by David Lynch, but maybe that might very well be the world we live in and we’ve convinced ourselves that everything happens to be moving along like it’s all fine.