A dark horse on the Oscar Best Picture nomination roster is Emerald Fennell’s (you’d recognize her as the actress portraying Camilla Parker Bowells on Netflix’s The Crown) Promising Young Woman (PYW) starring Carey Mulligan. Its unusual for the Academy to recognize for their most prestigious award, a revenge thriller written and directed by a fairly new Hollywood face known mostly for her work on, *gasp,* ~television~ rather than film. What makes PYW so special?
The Conservative Critic will let you know by answering the big three questions: “Is it entertaining?” “Does it have artistic/intellectual value?” and most importantly “Is it liberal propaganda?”
Promising Young Woman Meter Check:
Overall Rating: Very Good
Promising Young Woman follows the story of Cassandra played by Carey Mulligan (An Education, The Great Gatsby) who is seeking revenge for her deceased friend, Nina Fisher, who was raped by a group of men at a party while attending medical school.
This is the first of Fennell’s written or directed work that I’ve seen and I am incredibly impressed. Taking on an explosive and always relevant topic which is a bit dusty in terms of the public’s current outrage du jour, Fennell holds nothing back taking on the idea that “the nice guy” isn’t nice just because he isn’t as attractive or brazen as another man and that as women we are the patron saints of our girlfriends.
From its well paced nail biting plot line to its brilliant and cheeky references to Christ/sainthood, its playful use of color and its inception level casting, Promising Young Woman is a sensation. The Conservative Critic highly recommends watching. While there are some clear liberal undertones, the basic concept of the film transcends politics and the liberal messaging is not remotely subversive and is a clear bit in the film which makes it all together less sinister.
Was it entertaining?
Who doesn’t like a good revenge thriller? There is something deeply satisfying in watching someone be one step ahead of everyone else in a world where most of us feel like most of what happens to us is outside of our control. Promising Young Woman does not disappoint its genre.
With emotionally heavy baggage, the film drags the viewer into a Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde adventure where just when we think we are beginning to understand what the movie is all about we learn we are completely wrong.
Our heroine, Cassie leaves us constantly wondering “Oh God, what is she going to do?” with both deep fear and pure joy as she exacts levels of revenge specially catered to each individual predator with none facing the same extremity as the last. Just as much as her targets, the viewer wonders, “how far will she go?” and more darkly we wonder, “Do I wish she’d gone further?”
Visually pleasing, exciting and and complete with a heart breaking twist, Promising Young Woman is a popcorn crunching, diet coke slurping, arm-of-the-couch clutching good time for both men and women (if the men can take some jabs).
Does it have artistic/intellectual value? [Spoilers]
Rating: Stunning Work
Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is an art gallery of vision. The film opens to a scene of our heroine, Cassandra, splayed in crucifix on a bar booth, ostensibly bombed, luring her first “victim” (if you can call him that) to her trap. Cassie is not just a woman, she is the patron saint of women.
In fact, the name Cassandra itself is loaded with meaning. It means in Greek both “entangler of men” and “prophet who shines light on men.” Both truth and entrapment. The story of Cassandra in ancient Greece is that she was beloved by Apollo but no matter what he commanded she didn’t love him back and wouldn’t have sex with him. So he cursed her to never be believed. So despite her beauty and wit, she was considered by all to be insane. In fact, she actually warned everybody that the Trojan horse contained soldiers. They didn’t believe her. Read more about Cassandra who was ultimately raped and beaten by Ajax who was never held accountable by the Greeks here.
So in name alone, Fennell creates a vivid world for her viewer. Wrapped in pink hued rainbows, soft fabrics and pop songs performed by women, we see a world according to Cassie. When she is strongest and her power permeates the most, the colors are more pronounced and the world more soft. You can almost smell the rose water perfume and taste the sugar of a cupcake. Fennell manages to bring to life the essence of magical girl power and somehow sneak it by you so that it lives in the background never taking from the material.
The imagery of sainthood is less subtle but wonderfully executed. The viewer enjoys being in on the metaphor as Cassie stands head bowed framed with a pastel blue ring behind her head as would any saint painted in many eras of art. See below the image of Cassie compared to an image of Saint Mary Magdalene:
Beyond the stunning performance nominated for the Oscars Best Actress by Carey Mulligan (who already won the Critics Choice award for her performance), the casting was exceptional.
Using the actors’ body of work and type-cast personas, Fennell displays a group of men her viewers are familiar with as the “nice guys” from popular TV and film including Adam Brody (The O.C., In the Land of Women); Sam Richardson (Veep, Hooking Up); Max Greenfield (New Girl, The Neighborhood); and Bo Burnam (mostly famous for his standup as the everyman nice guy). This choice allows the viewer to more easily associate with the message of the story that “nice-guys” are sometimes (in the case of this movie, always) not-so-nice.
As the film takes a dark turn the aesthetic changes and we are brought into a hard and quintessentially masculine environment. A cabin surrounded by lush pines full of cowboy hats, dirty socks, sweat and the color red. When Cassie is killed, sacrificing herself for her final act of revenge for Nina (which means little girl of course), she is laid on a bed in crucifix, the full circle of her journey and clear symbol of her sainthood. As they burn her body the color is gone with only the masculine reds and browns and harsh remains.
In the concluding scene, a rustic wedding in all browns and reds, Cassie seems to have disappeared except you see on the buffet table there is a display of rainbow colored cupcakes triggering the viewer to expect the guardian angel of women to appear again. And from Elysian she does appear again, exacting justice from the beyond.
Fennell’s work was exceptional and I can only hope she has a lot more to come for the big screen.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Yes and no
What’s not propaganda is that women who are too drunk to hold a conversation, including but not limited to being unconscious, are too drunk to consent to sex. It is not a liberal notion that women are regularly taken advantage of at bars, at parties and even by their friends or people they feel closest too. In a time where liberals have co-opted, watered down and cheapened the horrors of abuse, it’s important to recognize that these facts and issues are not in and of themselves liberal. Men may fear false accusations but women fear physical assault on a daily basis and make decisions based on this fear. The “nice guys” (self proclaimed) are sometimes the biggest perpetrators, feeling entitled to the love or body of a woman because hey, they’re the nice guy after all right?
The liberalism comes in by the cartoonish villainy given to all men except two in the film (her father and a repentant soul). This is a bit done very intentionally and quite obviously by Fennell. In fact, at times it was done with quite a lot of humor (albeit dark). This idea that all men are capable of such horrific acts and that no one will stand up for women except women is definitely a liberal one and not one that truly holds men responsible. If we say all men are capable of evil but we never say all men are capable of good then how can we teach men to do good? How can we expect them to stand up for women when women need them if we have taught them our only heroes are ourselves?
However, this was an artistic choice used to make an extreme point in the film and it was in no way masked as reality. A more egregious liberal plot may have removed the dark humor and cast the parts quite differently.
Overall the propaganda was not unswallowable and a lot of the message was worth hearing again from a new more exciting perspective.
Promising Young Woman was an exceptional film worth watching. Because there are no conservative Supreme Court Justices up for confirmation this year, it has no chance of winning Best Picture against Minari and Nomadland (the chic outrage issue for Hollywood this year is Asian prejudice and both films were directed by Asian artists). Mulligan does, however, stand a chance in the Best Actress category having been nominated only once before for her work in An Education.
Though Fennell is extremely unlikely to take the win for Best Director (and really – it should be Nomadland’s Chloe Zhao who innovated a type of film never before seen), her awards debut was a triumph and she certainly will be back for more nominations.