Revenge is an interesting subject. We’ve all felt wronged or angered by someone else’s suffering and it is cathartic to see revenge exacted upon parties responsible for injustice, but the dark side of revenge is that it destroys the avenger as much as anyone. This idea is cunningly brought forward in Promising Young Woman, an exceptional film written and directed by Emerald Fennel.
In the film, Carrie Mulligan plays a woman consumed by revenge for the loss of a dear friend who was raped and subsequently lost the will to live, destroyed by the event. As Cassandra, she goes out clubbing, pretending to get drunk in order to trick men into revealing their predatory intentions when pretending to look out for the defenseless maiden and then dealing out some sort of punishment.
It’s a great hook and the film plays things with a great sense of ickiness at the creep factor on display. These guys always imagine themselves as nice guys and the casting of familiar faces known for nice guy roles, such as Adam Brody, goes a long way. Cassandra does develop a relationship with a pediatric surgeon played by Bo Burnham but the film is ultimately nihilistic and love cannot last. The most tragic figures in the movie are Cassandra’s parents, played with wonderful empathy and love by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown, long-suffering to see their daughter’s listlessness ever since the loss of her friend.
The film is really good. It moves along at a good pace, never lingering too long on the unpleasantries. It’s very funny but icky and dark at the same time, which is a really interesting blend, and ultimately tragic for all parties. I found all of the characters relatable and I really liked the unexpected turn of Alfred Molina as a lawyer facing a crisis. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as the central character, carrying the film very ably with a haunted confidence as she slowly exacts revenge after years of plotting, someone whose motivations you can understand but is told again and again by those around her, including the victim’s mother (an understated Molly Shannon) to move on.
I really like Promising Young Woman. I think it is a smart, funny yet tragic movie that is more than just a revenge film. I loved how it challenged me and made me squirm while also kind of giggling at the same time, not a lot of movies can do that to me. I highly recommend it.
Bo Burnham has written and directed a gem of a movie about coming of age in modern times. I thought it was a sweet, sad and very funny look at the life of a modern teenager and how it might actually not be all that different from your own past experience. I highly recommend it.
Elsie Fisher stars as Kayla, a 13 year-old daughter of a single dad who is trying his best to be there for her but, of course, he’s nothing but a source of embarrassment. She is of the smartphone generation and the recurrence of faces lit by digital screens was a motif I could not help but notice. What’s so great about the film is the relatability. I was 13 in the late 80s, a very different time, yet I can fully identify with all of the awkwardness and angst of trying to fit in while also standing out. It is a bewildering time, and I’m not sure technology has the influence some people of my generation and older think it does. The awfulness of being thirteen is probably universal, regardless of time or place. That was certainly the impression I got watching this film.
The movie has a really wonderful tone of polarization. Throughout the film we see these kids who are either clueless about how uncool they are or massively overcompensating for it. Many times the music works marvellously as either a counterpoint to what we’re seeing or a huge amplification. One of my favourite scenes involves Kayla going to a pool party (where she is so dreadfully embarrassed about appearing in a bathing suit that she almost has a panic attack in the bathroom while getting changed) and the shot is of her standing in the window looking at everyone frolicking and the music is this hilariously overdone electronic number that feels like the worst parts of a rave and a circus combined.
The casting of Elsie Fisher is easily my favourite part of the movie. She feels like a completely genuine 13 year-old with slightly wonky teeth, bad skin and bad posture, not one of the 25 year-old models who usually get the part. She’s the most endearing character I’ve seen in ages and really just wonderful. I understand Bo Burnham made a point of auditioning real teenagers, not necessarily actors, and the result is a really believable supporting cast who aren’t just clichés.
There are some dark moments and some sad ones which help give the movie more dimension than just a series of gags and jokes, but it never gets too dark. For example, one scene shows the kids in school doing a practice drill to prepare for the event of a school shooting, but it is played for laughs by having the kids as indifferent to it as a fire drill. There was only one moment in the movie that made me feel actually uncomfortable, as opposed to amusedly uncomfortable, which is the currency the movie is dealing in all the time, but that is not a criticism. Without giving anything away, I think the scene played out just the way it should have and in a way I was grateful for it even though I felt for a moment that it threatened to pull the whole movie down.
I really liked 8th Grade a lot. It’s a really sweet coming of age comedy that shows how being a teenager today is probably not all that different from the way it was when I was a teenager. Elsie Fisher’s Kayla is the most refreshingly charming awkward movie teen I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend it if you want to laugh and maybe shed a tear or two at its sensitivity. Beautiful.