Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

My initial trepidation towards this film came from fear that the acclaim (especially on Letterboxd) might have been solely attributable to the fact that Emerald Fennell was working with the succinct thesis statement of "men r trash." Now that's not a bad thesis to work on, but I was just worried the film would coast exclusively on that notion. Thankfully, Promising Young Woman does offer more to chew on, but the end result is still frustratingly mixed.

The cast of the film is a wonderful collection of diverse (in their resumes, that is; they're basically all still white) character actors. Carey Mulligan has finally broken free of the "discount Michelle Williams" label I've attributed to her since day 1. Is she Oscar-worthy? No, and I seem to be worryingly alone in that assessment, but she still carries the film with hoarse delivery and tired eyes, giving more subtext to whether or not her actions are actually providing any sense of gratification or closure. The rest of the cast would've been a nice surprise to see pop up in cameo form, but the opening credits put a stop to that potential.

Mulligan isn't the only one with Oscar buzz here, and by that token, she isn't the only one with misplaced Oscar buzz. For a directorial debut, there's plenty of flair and energy on display here, but tonally, I'm not sure what Fennell's goal was. The film goes from the first act having a lot of personality, to the second act where I guess the intention was to have personality by not having personality? There's a montage sequence, for example, that just feels like it belongs in a much more generic film.

I notice that my criticisms on the soundtracks of films has been unusually fervent lately, but Promising Young Woman might have the worst music I've heard in a 2020 film. Just a hodgepodge of random jams, a contrived score and what I think was supposed to be a foreboding, slowed-down violin rendition of "Toxic" by Britney Spears?... Really? Jordan Peele already did that shit better with "I Got 5 On It." Oh, and "toxic"? Subtle...

One may argue that subtlety isn't at all what Promising Young Woman aims for, and given the still-apparent need to smack men around and wake them up to these realities, the bombastic avenue seems fitting. There are just so many elements here that feel standard under the veneer of colourful championing. Still, I can't remember the last time a film left me this stumped for a definitive take, so hats off to Emerald Fennell for that!

2020 Ranked.

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