PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

December 23, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” The protagonist in writer-director Emerald Fennell’s (“Killing Eve”) feature film debut is a woman on a mission to avenge not just what happened to her friend, but also change the mentality of predatory men … one “nice guy” at a time. She is a #MeToo heat-seeking missile.

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, and when we first see her, she appears to be nearing blackout mode while drinking alone on a bench inside a bar. Most people have hobbies like crochet or golf. Cassie’s hobby, or maybe mission is a better word, is to lure men, with the appearance of a drunken easy score, and then scare them straight into respecting boundaries. She’s a non-violent vigilante (as opposed to Beatrix Kiddo) for morality and respect towards women.

As the film progresses, we pick up bits about what traumatized her to this extent. It turns out her best friend Nina was victimized by a group of men from their law school class. See, Cassie is the titular ‘promising young woman’ whose career dreams were dashed over what happened to her friend. Now, Cassie works in a coffee shop with a supportive and wise-cracking friend Gail (Laverne Cox, “Orange is the New Black”), who knows nothing of Cassie’s hobby … and neither do Cassie’s parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) who can’t help but wonder what happened to their bright, ambitious daughter, and why she still lives at home with them.

Cassie’s mission gets momentarily de-railed when former classmate Ryan (an excellent Bo Burnham, THE BIG SICK) pops in to the coffee shop and awkwardly proclaims his long-time distant crush on her. The two are clumsy and believable together, and their relationship has more ups and downs than a pogo stick. For most movies, this would be enough to hold our attention, but not for ambitious filmmaker Fennell who has much more to offer. There is a cleverness to the presentation with four specific segments: a friend who didn’t believe her (Alison Brie), the law school dean who didn’t want to ruin a boy’s future (Connie Britton), a regretful defense attorney who took the money (Alfred Molina), and a bachelor party that gathers those who make up her nightmare.

Ms. Fennell is also an actor (and has a cameo in this one), and it’s clear she has a real feel for putting actors in the best position to maximize a scene. Of course, Ms. Mulligan is an outstanding actor on her own, but the actors benefit from Ms. Fennell’s work. Other supporting work is provided by Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Molly Shannon, Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell, and Sam Richardson. The color palette is similar to an early Tim Burton movie, and in fact, Cassie’s home looks like a museum or possibly a middle-class Liberace setting.

There is a lot going on here, and some of it is quite uncomfortable – and sprinkled with dark humor in unexpected moments. Advice like “move on” and excuses like “we were kids” ring hollow to Cassie, who carries some guilt over what happened to Nina, and remains focused on attacking a system that enables inexcusable behavior. Ms. Mulligan embraces a character who possesses raw nerves and emotions she sometimes hides, while other times flashes in neon. This isn’t about a guy here or there who takes advantage, but rather a faulty system that protects these guys at the expense of victims. The ending is unusual and unexpected, and kudos to an exciting new filmmaker.

In theaters December 25, 2020

watch the trailer


LIKE A BOSS (2020)

January 9, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s no secret that all movies aren’t made to appeal to all movie goers. Even for someone like me who watches an average of 5 movies per week, there are going to be some that are simply not in my wheelhouse. In the case of this latest from director Miguel Arteta (BEATRIZ AT DINNER, 2017), it seems to have been formulated as a “Girls Night Out” treat … a sub-genre with a track record of success.

Although I’m not the target market, I’m not precluded from commenting on the film and making observations. It merely means I’ve watched the movie from a different perspective than many paying customers will. So let’s start with the positives. The cast is excellent. After being wasted and miscast is last year’s disappointing THE KITCHEN, Tiffany Haddish is cut loose and allowed to do what she does best – searing one-liners peppered with raunchiness. Rose Byrne has long been what was once called a comedy “straight man.” Of course that term is no longer used, but I’m not sure what today’s acceptable terminology is. The simple fact is, very few people are as brilliant as Ms, Byrne at playing off an acid-tongued comic. She is a rare talent. As for Salma Hayek, her body of work (and Oscar nomination for FRIDA) speaks for itself.

Mia (Ms. Haddish) and Mel (Ms. Byrne) have been friends since childhood, and are now roommates, best friends, and business partners at the beauty/cosmetic company they founded. The creative and shoot-from-the-hip Mia and the pragmatic and meticulous Mel are personality opposites to the point that Mel has been reticent to explain their serious financial woes to the always upbeat Mia. When cosmetics tycoon Claire Luna (Ms. Hayek) makes an offer to save the struggling company, Mel welcomes the financial relief, while Mia senses trouble.

As you would guess, Mia is right … Claire Luna has darker motives, and soon she is driving a wedge between the two partners and friends. The talented supporting cast includes: Jennifer Coolidge, Billy Porter (who manages to remain flamboyant while being subdued for him), Ari Graynor (“I’m Dying Up Here”), Jessica St. Clair, and Karan Soni (DEADPOOL) as Claire’s assistant. There is also a cameo near the end for those who enjoy a bit of friendly comedy.

Danielle Sanchez Witzel, Adam Cole-Kelly, and Sam Pitman combined on the story and script, and have inserted a few gags that play to the strength of the cast – pot smoking ghost peppers, and boyfriend humor are all at play, and balanced by the strength of female friendships. The business side is so cartoonish (especially Ms. Hayek’s character) that it will likely somewhat offend anyone who actually runs a business, but the raunchy humor and overly emotional character reactions will likely satisfy the intended audience.

watch the trailer: