Promising Young Woman: It’s a Great Movie That Hurts – Amazon Rental Review

This revenge story isn’t quite what you would expect, but it gets the job done.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) is a 30-year-old medical school dropout who lives with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge) and works at a coffee shop under her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) and starts dating her former classmate Dr. Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham). Cassie dropped out of college along with her friend Nina when Nina was raped and the school refused to do anything about it, leading to Nina’s apparent death. Every weekend, now, Cassie dresses up and pretends to be drunk in order to trick random “good guys” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson) into taking her home and trying to have sex with her without her consent, prepared to punish them for what they’re doing. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that Cassie is planning on getting back at all of the people involved in Nina’s case, ranging from the women who didn’t help her (Alison Brie, Connie Britton) to the lawyers (Alfred Molina) to the men involved (Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield). 

Take her home and you will not have a good morning.

END SUMMARY

It’s interesting to me that I have gone back and forth repeatedly about whether or not this is a great movie, but I cannot question that it is an effective movie. I’m not sure exactly what the term is for what this movie does, likely because I don’t have any formal schooling in theater or film, but it clearly is designed to make you think about it more than most films. I’d say it is similar to Bertolt Brecht in that the film is designed in such a way that you can’t quite be pulled into it the way that you would with most other films, but instead of doing so by eliminating the fourth wall, this film does it by constantly subverting your expectations on every level. Rather than being able to pretend to be an unseen viewer into the story, the film tries to force you to analyze yourself and those around you in relation to what’s happening by constantly keeping you on your toes.

The coffee place, for example, is “Make Me Coffee,” which is just a great subversion.

First, the casting is intentionally done to be against type. All of the guys in this movie that Cassie ends up confronting are usually either love interests or fun best friends in films (Adam Brody, for example). They’re actors who seem harmless and non-threatening, which makes it all the more impactful when we see them start to grope a half-aware woman. In contrast, the guys who we actually can kind of trust are mostly cast by people who play villains, like Clancy “The Kurgan” Brown, which adds to that same effect. 

Here’s McLovin’ not looking for McConsent.

Second, much of the film is based around slow reveals that not everything is what it seems. While the advertising and the opening scene suggest that Cassie is doing is quickly revealed to be slightly different than reality, and the film keeps changing things just enough and not quite explaining everything directly enough that you keep being forced to think about the narrative and that’s how the film gets you in a mindset to contemplate.

*Plays Killer Queen*

Third, the cinematography in many of the scenes are designed to make the audience feel like they’re the bad guy or girl. The confrontations are often directly at camera, making us empathize not with the heroine, but with the people she’s forcing to think about their actions. It’s a brilliant technique, particularly when combined with the other elements above. It compels you to think about your own actions in the past, even, or especially, the ones that you justified to yourself at the time. 

She sees you and all of your sins.

More than trying to tell a complete story (although it does that as well), I think this movie was designed to affect the audience in ways that few movies do. It’s making you think about your real life and your actions, whether you’re a man or a woman, and it does it very effectively. 

Sometimes when there’s a point to be made the gloves have to come off.

The performances are all fantastic, particularly Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham. Their chemistry is so strong that it allows for their relationship to move forward in a fairly rapid montage without it being at all distracting. It’s also strong enough that you can buy that a woman who is focused on getting back at men could really find a romantic interest in one.

This scene is just brilliant.

Overall, without going into spoilers, I think this is a movie that everyone should see. I’m not sure that it’s a great movie in the traditional sense, but it is doing something effectively that many movies can’t. That’s impressive.

ON THE SOFA WITH THE JOKER AND THE FACELESS OLD WOMAN

So, after watching this, we started talking and, after having a fairly long discussion of the movie, we decided that maybe we should convey our back and forths rather than just talking about the film separately. 

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

Faceless Old Woman: Hey stranger.

Joker: Welcome back to the Sofa.

FOW: Well, I do live here.

JotS: Somehow I always forget that. Possibly due to the whole faceless thing.

FOW: Fair.

JotS: In any case, Promising Young Woman. When we saw this, you already knew the ending. Do you think that’s something people should be warned about?

FOW: I read a spoiler for the ending because a critic who saw it at Sundance thought the ending was a reason not to watch the movie at all, and when I read it I thought that maybe they were right. Having now watched the movie, I don’t really agree. I definitely would say that anyone who’s experienced sexual trauma or violence needs to be warned that this movie could be really upsetting or retraumatizing to them. If they really want to see the movie and think that reading a synopsis would make it easier for them to handle, they should.

JotS: Do you feel that knowing the ending spoiled the effect for you? I personally didn’t see that coming and it was pretty profound, but I don’t know that it would be any less impactful if it wasn’t a surprise.

FOW: It’s hard to compare an experience I didn’t have with one I did have. I did feel stressed out and on-edge while watching the movie because I knew where it was going, but that could have been even worse if I didn’t know. It was still an extremely upsetting scene to watch, if that’s what you mean.

JotS: Yeah, that’s what I meant. Side Note: I’ve already put up the spoiler warning, but if you got to this point here’s your second chance to bail. … Okay, well, for those of you who watched the movie or are just reading this, at the end of the film Cassie is killed by Alexander Monroe, the same person who raped her friend Nina years before. I get why people might view that as a reason not to see the movie.

FOW: It’s more complicated than that, because Cassie turns out to have a full contingency plan for her murder that leads to Alex’s arrest. So that’s clever and humorous in a very dark way. Still, at the end of the day, two dead women. It’s not the healthiest message, that you should let a traumatizing event completely consume your life and then you should be willing to die to get the ultimate revenge. On the other hand, that’s such a classic story, so am I unfairly penalizing this movie because I’m worrying too much about these implications?

JotS: I think it’s appropriate to worry about the fact that the movie ends on a note like that. Sure, Alexander is going to jail, but, when you think about it later, Cassie literally tried to cut him with a scalpel after handcuffing him to the bed. He’s rich and there’s a good chance he’d either win a self-defense claim or that he’d plead down to a lesser charge, even after burning Cassie’s body (which is also a crime, kids). But I think this is part of the movie trying to get your attention more than provide a good example of how to deal with trauma. And that ending DEFINITELY gets you thinking. I don’t know that I’ve considered the implications of a film’s ending this much in a long time and I do these every day.

FOW: Specifically, I remember it made an impression on you that Alex was able to kill her when he was only able to free one arm and Cassie had a scalpel.

JotS:I mean, yeah, that’s kind of a horrifying thing I would never consider. Alexander isn’t like a big, muscular guy, and he’s able to kill a woman with only one arm. Guys don’t realize that women are probably very aware of that power disparity. If I were to walk behind a woman on the street, I wouldn’t think about it at all, but she might be on edge because, despite the fact that I’m only maybe average strength for a man, I could probably overpower her. That’s fucking insane and half of the population lives with that all the time.

FOW: Insert reference to the John Mulaney bit where he realizes he’s chasing a woman through the subway station without intending to.

JotS: Speaking of comedians, let’s talk about Bo Burnham.

FOW: See, possibly because I knew the ending, Ryan’s (Bo Burnham’s character) situation is what actually kept me awake at night.

JotS: I cannot blame you. For those of you who are reading this, it’s revealed that Ryan had been a witness to Nina’s rape (which he had seemingly forgotten). Later, after Cassie is killed, he lies to the police about her disappearance. Now, this is a woman whom he had dated for months and claimed to love, but he flat-out lies to the cops about her, knowing full well that she’s probably dead, all just to cover his ass. That’s some dark shit.

FOW: Well, yeah, that was what I said, what you pointed out was that they did a really good job of setting him up as a very likeable, sweet, handsome, charming guy in the first place. The thing that kept me awake at night after watching it was the reality that someone who says they love you, that you’ve let your guard down to trust, someone who’s met your parents, would hurt you to save their own ass. That’s a pretty terrifying reality.

JotS: Yeah, you don’t expect Bo Burnham to be the bad guy. You particularly don’t see it coming after they even make him out to be the injured party when he sees Cassie on one of her weekend revenge outings. You understand completely why he was hurt by this and you feel like he’s the good guy when he forgives her. This movie is built around throwing your expectations off.

FOW: It’s subverting an audience expectation (and as you’ve pointed out there’s a lot of that in this movie) but it’s also about our own expectations in these situations. The movie is already pointing out that there are people you’re told you can trust, like your female friends or the female dean of your school. You’re told those people will have your back when you tell them that something happened to you. Girl power, right? And the movie explicitly shows the reality is they might not! In the worst ways! Secondly, we get an early hint that Ryan has issues when, on his first date with Cassie, leads her right to his apartment and then springs that fact on her. It might seem cute but it’s actually very pressure-y!

JotS: Yeah, but we also see him recognize that she doesn’t like that, realize immediately that he has messed up, and try to apologize and fix it, something that we often see male protagonists do in rom-coms. This movie kind of makes you recognize that a lot of stuff we’re accustomed to seeing in films is actually not great to serve as a cultural example of behavior. And yeah, a big part of this film is that you absolutely never know who a person really is on the inside. One of the only characters who actually recognizes his mistakes is the lawyer, a character that is typically the ruthless one.

FOW: Oh hey Alfred Molina, didn’t expect to see you here.

JotS: Yeah, that’s another subversion. The guy who usually plays villains is the one with the conscience.

FOW: You pointed out they do that with pretty much the whole cast of this movie.

JotS: AND IT. IS. AMAZING. And it really does contribute to the theme that the people that Hollywood or society tells you to trust might not be the ones you really should.

FOW: When Ryan is confronted by Cassie he asks “So you’ve never done anything you regret?” But the thing is, he didn’t regret it, or seemingly even remember it, until he was confronted with it!

JotS: Yeah. That’s the thing. To Nina, it was her life being ruined. To Ryan, it wasn’t even worth remembering. What the hell else has he done that watching a girl get raped at a frat house wasn’t even memorable?

FOW: Yeah… 

JotS: Then again, maybe it’s a statement on how the rapists get to move on. They get to forget.  The victims don’t.

FOW: Everyone gets to forget except the people who can’t. When you do get to Alfred Molina’s lawyer who does actually feel bad about his part in it, Cassie doesn’t continue to berate him for just a little bit longer after that point. She’s clearly so relieved that SOMEBODY acknowledged that they did something bad and ACTUALLY remembered and deeply regretted it. I was moved by that.

JotS: I think it helped that this was right after we had her dealing with both Alison Brie’s character, who didn’t remember that A) Nina had died and B) that she had a video of Nina’s rape on her old phone, and Connie Britton’s character, who didn’t remember the incident really. These were two women who were involved in Nina’s life at the time and they both just kind of ignored it. Then you have Alfred Molina who probably never even met Nina in person and he’s the one who is broken over what happened to her. Yeah, it’s a hell of a moment.

JotS: So, would you recommend that people see this movie despite the fact that the plot ends in kind of a bad place?

FOW: I have to say that watching a cishet man react to this movie made me immediately think “all men should see this movie, including young men.” For everyone else, it’s a reminder not to be complicit in this culture of silence and “forgetfulness.” I hope that some people who see this movie also feel heard – it’s truly maddening when everyone acts like nothing has happened and this movie echoes that situation in a way that could feel validating. And of course, the movie is extremely well done and Carey Mulligan is incredible. But it’s not the fun revenge movie you might think you’re getting from the trailer!

JotS: Or even from the opening scene, honestly, but I agree, I think everyone should see it. It’s not the movie you want, but it’s the movie you need.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Bad Hair: How Do You Make Hair Scary? Weaves – Hulu Review/Reader Request

No, I won’t call it hair-raising. I’m above that.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Anna Bludso (Elle Lorraine) is an assistant at Culture, a TV station featuring predominantly black artists in 1989. Anna’s mentor, Edna (Judith Scott), is replaced by former model Zora (Vanessa Williams) on the orders of the station’s owner, Grant (James Van der Beek). Anna pitches a new idea for the network to Zora, impressing her. Zora tells Anna to get a weave, rather than her natural hair, in order to better meet with the new image for the network that Zora wants. Anna gets the weave from major stylist Virgie (Laverne Cox). However, it turns out that this new hair may be more unnatural than a normal weave. It may, in fact, be evil.

EEEEEEEEEVIL HAIR.

END SUMMARY

The idea of having hair that is evil is not new. The Simpsons did it in 1998 and that was a parody of an episode of Amazing Stories from 1986. However, I’ve never thought that the hair itself was scary. This movie, on the other hand, makes me genuinely terrified of the experience of getting a weave something I, as a white dude with a scruffy look, will never actually have to contemplate. The sounds and the visuals that accompany Laverne Cox giving Elle Lorraine a weave are visceral. It’s bloody, it’s painful, and we know that every second of it is not just damaging her physically but erasing her essence. While apparently weaves aren’t as bloody as they appear in this film, a woman I know who has one described getting a bad one as “like someone attempting to scalp you without a knife.” This movie makes that abundantly clear. The fact that it’s mandated for no reason other than to try and reconstruct black women into a look that white people find appealing really calls attention to one of the more subtle ways in which society tries to mandate conformity to a Eurocentric ideal. 

Also, weaves are expensive as f*ck.

This film is a big swing by Justin Simien, the director and writer of Dear White People. He appears to be trying to do his own version of Get Out, something that a number of black filmmakers have been given more rein to try since Jordan Peele reminded Hollywood that black people can, in fact, make solid horror movies with good social commentary. Unfortunately, I think Hollywood also doesn’t fully trust them to do so, which sometimes leads to a disjointed feeling between the vision and the product (like Antebellum). Simien described the film as a love letter about the relationship between black women and their hair, something I’ll admit that I don’t know if I can comment on too much. I will say that I thought the performances did a lot of the talking, in terms of showing that relationship, and the script did have some of the sharp dialogue that Simien has proven he can produce.

And it does showcase a number of hairstyles.

The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t really balance the horror and satirical social commentary particularly well. While the idea of trying to tie cultural erasure into a monster could probably be very powerful, maybe even on the level of Get Out, this movie never actually manages to do it. Honestly, I don’t think a man, even a black man, could ever have done this movie right. It tries to make numerous statements about the relationship of black women to their hair, but most of them seemed like rehashed jokes from In Living Color rather than an actual depiction of how hair impacts the way that black women are perceived by white society. While the hair being a key to promotion and social acceptance could be a great way to expand on the theme, I think the movie drops the ball a bit and instead just has it be demanded by other black women who just want to perpetuate a cycle of cultural erasure. Possibly the only really good commentary is the reveal that ***SPOILERS*** everything that happens is really in service of a wealthy white guy. ***END SPOILERS*** It doesn’t help that the movie has difficulty being a horror film while it’s doing social commentary and vice-versa. The scenes of Anna’s hair being evil don’t really seem to further the themes at all, with a few small exceptions. 

Creepy imagery, though.

Overall, though, any movie that can make me feel this uncomfortable at times must be doing something right and I think any critic would be hard pressed to say the film’s not entertaining. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Freak Show: It’s Cute, but the Script is Weak – Netflix Review

A queer teenager has to deal with moving to a Conservative high school.

SUMMARY

Billy Bloom (Alex Lawther) is a young, flamboyant, and proudly gay kid who was raised by his very dramatic alcoholic mother “Muv” (Bette Midler). He ends up getting sent to live with his father (Larry Pine) and his nanny (Lorraine Toussaint) after Muv goes to rehab. Unfortunately, the local high school is extremely conservative, and Billy is immediately labeled a “Freak.” Rather than being ashamed, Billy tries to be even more outlandish and outspoken, and even makes a friend in Mary Jane (AnnaSophia Robb) and a friend/ambiguous love interest in Flip Kelly (Ian Nelson), but ends up being the target of a beating. After he recovers, Billy decides that he wants to be the first male homecoming queen, to the chagrin of Lynette (Abigail Breslin), the queen bee of the school, and to the delight of local reporter Felicia (Laverne Cox). 

His eyeshadow is on point.

END SUMMARY

This movie is so close to being great, but unfortunately only ends up at “good.” Lawther’s performance is fantastic, as you would expect if you’ve watched The End of the F***ing World. At one point he does a dramatic monologue as Zelda Fitzgerald that is so over the top that it seems like it should fail miserably… except that Lawther nails it. That’s basically how his role frequently feels in this movie. He’s written so over the top and so unrealistically self-aggrandizing that he doesn’t ever really ring true as a character, but somehow Lawther actually makes it work. It’s hard to make a character work when he’s constantly thinking about how much better he is than everyone, although the movie does make him inherently the underdog, and it’s even harder when the character seems so undeveloped. It’s not that Billy couldn’t be interesting, in fact much of what happens to him in the movie should be, it’s that he doesn’t really seem to grow at all during the course of the film. Maybe that’s supposed to reflect that he doesn’t need to change who he is, but we watch films to see a journey, and Billy doesn’t really go on one. 

I almost want to say that he does just because this outfit gets into the movie.

Similarly, we don’t really get the full impact of the journeys of any of the other people. Flip is depicted as a jock who is trying to figure out who he is, particularly given his interest in Billy and his love of culture, but we only get a little bit of that story because Flip also doesn’t seem to grow much. While having such static characters could work if everyone else in the film was changing, and the very end of the movie almost makes that point, it still feels like it only touches upon that theme. The movie seems more fixated on showing the glamorous side of Billy rather than his more human side. 

Although, his relationship with Bette Midler almost brings it out.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie, but it’s only okay. I wouldn’t mess your hair up trying to get it on your watchlist.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.