Monday, January 18

How promising young woman shows the limits of #MeToo revenge | Movie


Up-and-comingyoungwoman,writeranddirectorofEmeraldFennell,thetartdarkcomedythatcoversanincendiaryraperevengeplotwithapastelSheen,hasaseductive,loopingtrap:Cassie,asingularlyobsessedcharacterplayedwithsingularlyimpressivedepthbyCareyMulligan,pretendstobearound-Deceaseddrunkinabar,followsthepredatorymachinationsofasteelyman,thenflipstheswitchwhenhebeginssexuallyassaultingawomanhethinksistoodrunktonoticeorcareI”Whatareyoudoing?”Sheasks,suddenlysoberasstoneIThefirsttimeCassiepullsthetrap,inthefirstsequenceofthemovie,it’snotentirelyshocking,ifyou’veseenthetrailer,youknowherplanforrevenge,butsinceit’stheOfAdamBrody’sheartthrobasMulligan’sPredator,thepreciselycalibratedfaçadedropisatantalizingandunnervingjoltI

Iwantedtoencouragethischeating,themoviewantsyoutoanimatethishook,butbythesecondtrick,whenCassiesurprisesandcondemnsanotherloucheloser(thistimeplayedbyChristopherMintz-PlassefromSuperbad),theexcitementoftheexhibitiondiminiShesIHalfwaythrough,whenCassie,inonelastrevengeforherinvisiblethebesttfriend(I’mnotgoingtospoilhowbadShesupportsherrage,butit’snothardtoguessfromthebeginningofthemovie),takesaimatherpastIDeanofmedicalschool(ConnieBritton)whoturnedablindeyetodevastatingbehavior,IhadtohitthepausebuttonIThefilmhasbeenheraldedasathrillingreworkingofthetiredraperevengedrama,a#MeToorompthatreliShestheself-righteousnessofbadmenIButCassie’sannihilatingobsession,hercharacter’sreductiontothelongshadowoftheworstthateverhappenedtoher,didn’tfeeldizzyingorrevealing,butfrustratinglyadeadendIThefilmdidn’tfeelasedgyorprovocativeas,initssingularfocusonvigilantejustice,averyrecentrelicfromthefirstheadydaysof#MeToopublicrageI

Thepromisingyoungwoman,withhersourbiteanddarkfatalism,isdeliberatelyhaunting,butseeingherinlate2020feltunsettling,likeasongoutoftuneIItsmoltencorebroughtmebackinlate2017,whenthe#MeToomovementwasfloodedwithwhite-hotrage-aconstellationofprivatesorrowsthatweresuddenlygivenavague,yetrevealingforminthepublicforumIThereweremanydeep-seatedhookstohangtheoutrageon:theHarveyEinsteinss,sparkinglingeringoutrageovertheBrockTurnercase,whichitselfwasreminiscentofthe2012Steubenvillehighschoolgangraperecordedonphonefootagecellphones(acrimeandtraumasimilartotheinvisibletragedyattheheartofPromisingYoungWoman),whichlandedonaverydifferentmedialandscape,alongwiththestoryofDaisyColemann,thantheoneweoccupynowI

Butmorethanthreeyearsawayfromthewickofthe#MeToomovement,anotherdecadeinthelooseremainsofhistoryafterhistoryofhorrible,justified,mundaneandinfuriatingcasesofsexualassaultandthepoorpreparationofourculturetodiscussitwithanypsychologicalnuanceIWeknowtherearebadmen,badexcuses,badrecordsIUnmaskingisalimitedemotionIPromisingYoungWomanboilsanarchetypalassaultstoryinitsstarkestnuances:vigilanteandbadpeople,unchanged,awomanwhosetraumasubsumesherpersonalityIWhereistheperceptionofthatexhibition?Whatisleftwhentheragebreaksout?

PartofPromisingYoungWoman’snonspecificcanachronismstemsfromthelengthyfilmdevelopmentprocessthatwasextendedfurtherbythepandemic(afterapublicizeddebutatSundance,FocusFeaturespuShedbackitsbroadAprilreleasedatetoChristmasDayI),andthehyperspeedoftheInternetofthelate2010sinwhichculturalconversationssoarandexplodedayandweekIThefilmhasitsstrengths:Mulligan’sperformance,howSheputsthebenefitofthedoubtgiventoCassie’sblondeandwhitefemininity,withherfeatherybangs,rainbowmanicureandbubblegumpinkwardrobeI(Thefactthatthefilm’sbusinesspremise-arevengefantasyinwhichawomanconsistentlytargetsmenwhoseemlikeable-islargelydependentonCassie’swhiteandblondefemininitynotmentioned,anundeniablelimitationI)I

Photograph:MerieWeismillerWallace/AP Butitsissues-settingeasypunchesagainstthincharacterswhosayanddoallthewrongthings-dazzlewhencomparedtoothercontemporaryworksthataddresstheshape-shiftingdemonsoftrauma,elusivecomplicity,andtheinsidiousnessofprioritizingpowerIaboutclarityI,likeHBO’sTheTale,whichexploresthefractureoftimeandtraumaofself-narratives,andawoman’sabilitytochangeherunderstandingofwhathappenedtoherIOrtheendofHBO’sIMayDestroyYou,whichusesthefantasyofrapeasamechanismtohealwithoutthetraumaturningintoobliteratingCassie-styledarkmatterILastyear’sAssistantavoidsPromisingYoungWoman’sbad-manapproachforagripping(albeittonallyopposite)portraitofsystemicrotandtoxicadjacencyinaEinsteins-styleproductioncompanyI

Inotherwords,allthepiecesthattransmutethesamehorrorsoupintoirregularandirreducibleedges,whichemergemorethaninthebifurcationofgoodandbadpeopleIThemacabreandconfitdenouementofthePromisingGirliscertainlysurprising,butatthecostofsurprise;there’slittleroomtorunwhenbothCassieandthemovietakeontheworstpotentialofallIThatbleaknesslingersintheearlydaysof#MeToo,whenexposurewasarevelation,whenrecognitionoftheextentoftoxicitywashistoryIIwouldliketounderstandthenextchapter,believeinhealing,change,potential,complicationorbreakthrough,whichcouldalsobethesweetestrevengeI

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