‘Promising Young Woman’ Spoiler-Filled Review Addendum

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Promising Young Woman (CREDIT : Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features)

I’ve already published a rave review of Promising Young Woman that you can check out here, and now that the release date has finally arrived, I’ve got some spoiler-rific thoughts to share. This is all to say: SPOILER ALERT! So you know, don’t read this unless you’ve seen it or if you’re fine with knowing all the details ahead of time.

ONE LAST WARNING! Don’t click ahead unless you really mean to…


‘Promising Young Woman’ Fulfills Its Promise, and Then Some


Promising Young Woman (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Molly Shannon, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Director: Emerald Fennell

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: R for Twisted Jokes, Drug Spikings, Discussions of Sexual Violence, and Some Up-Close Acute Violence

Release Date: December 25, 2020

Promising Young Woman hooked me immediately with its trailer, seemingly telling me everything I needed to know. When I finally saw the actual movie, it somehow still had plenty of opportunities to surprise me. It fits one of my favorite formulas for all-time great movies: simultaneously exactly what I was hoping for and so different from what I was expecting. Carey Mulligan is a knockout, in every way you can imagine. She plays med school dropout Cassie Thomas, a black widow who lures entitled men into this intoxicating trap she’s cooked up. She pretends to be blackout drunk at bars so that someone will not-so-gallantly bring her home to take advantage of her, at which point she drops the charade and spooks like them like a zombie popping out of the grave. She has her own history with assault, but she’s also an avenging angel taking on the entirety of rape culture.


This Is a Movie Review: ‘Eighth Grade’ is a Rewarding Portrayal of Adolescent Anxiety

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Director: Bo Burnham

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R, Because The MPAA is Worried the Target Audience Can’t Handle a Frank Portrayal of Teen Sexuality

Release Date: July 13, 2018 (Limited)

I tend to be careful about recommending any movie that effectively showcases anxiety, because if it is well-made, it will all but guarantee an unpleasant experience for viewers who are prone to anxiety. In the case of Eighth Grade, which unflinchingly portrays the age that is for many the height of discomfort, it would seem to be the peak of a risky proposition. As 13-year-old Kayla, Elsie Fisher thoroughly embodies a state of constant uncertainty. If you have any empathy at all, it is a big ask on the part of the film to watch her story. But the end result is not a transfer of Kayla’s anxiety, but rather invigoration. It is quite the emotional wringer, but I am grateful for the experience, and I imagine you will be, too.

Writer/director Bo Burnham has talked about his own experiences with anxiety in his comedy performances, and he has found that teenage girls related to that side of himself more than any other group. Thus why he made a film about a middle school girl instead of what could have easily been something autobiographical. His understanding of permanent unease is clearly fundamental, which is abundantly clear in his sensory decisions. Kayla’s arrivals at various locations – school, the mall, a pool party – are accompanied by her own internal soundtrack. It tends to be exuberant party music, but overly busy with a staccato rhythm that gives it a jagged edge.

Kayla attempts to lift up herself (as well as anyone who might be out there listening) with YouTube videos offering advice about how to be more confident and adventurous in day-to-day life. Alas, we see her in a seemingly unending struggle to reap the benefits of following her own words. But by the end, she is genuinely excited for high school and in a much warmer place with her doting single father (Josh Hamilton). It seems like there really is a light at the end of the anxiety tunnel, and against all odds, Eighth Grade manages to leave me more hopeful than most movies. I hope that is not due to the randomness of my own shifting emotions, but rather genuine inspiration.

Eighth Grade is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Inside Out, Emotional nakedness

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Guccis

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Big Sick’ is the Best Romantic Comedy in Years

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter

Director: Michael Showalter

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Adults and Comedians Talking Like Adults and Comedians

Release Date: June 23, 2017 (Limited)/Expands July 14, 2017

The Big Sick follows the classic rom-com template in a lot of ways despite not  resembling any other entry in the genre in any obvious fashion. But if you look close enough, that formula is there. There’s a meet-cute, a dramatic misunderstanding, and a climactic reunion. It is usually that middle portion when lesser rom-coms start to become annoying or even offensive, but when the miscommunications happen because one half of the central couple is in a coma, the struggles along the way to that happy ending become a lot more understandable.

Based on the real-life courtship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who plays a fictionalized version of himself) and his co-writer/now-wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is an astute portrayal of culture clash, modern romance tics, and the workaday stand-up comedy lifestyle. Kumail hits it off with Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she kinda, sorta heckles him, they go back to his place so that they can hook up and he can show her some cool obscure genre flicks like The Abominable Dr. Phibes (she teasingly takes him to task for testing her pop culture tastes). Soon enough they are basically inseparable. Alas, Kumail has been keeping Emily a secret from his parents because he comes from a traditional Pakistani family that practices arranged marriage, so any future with her comes with a risk of being ostracized. This would all be enough conflict on its own, but on top of that, just after they break, Emily succumbs to a mysterious illness that leads to doctors placing her in a medically induced coma.

Classic rom-com humor tends to spring from witticisms and oddball characterizations, but The Big Sick’s most hilarious elements come from its knack for outrageous joke-telling. This is called playing to your strengths. Nanjiani is one of the most top-tier funnymen around today, and the rest of the film’s core stand-up crew are played by some reliable comedic heavy hitters (Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham). The Big Sick wins you over because it goes broad and plentiful with its emotions. Every moment of worry over Emily’s health is counteracted with a big guffaw.

Nanjiani and company further distinguish themselves within the rom-com mold in how the make-up and reunion portion plays out. Kumail and Emily find themselves back to each other thanks mostly to the work he puts in with her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter). Romano brings the soulful gravitas he has made his specialty in his dramatic roles, but his comic chops are just as sharp as the young guns around him, and Hunter is the same spitfire we have loved for so long (her confrontation of a racist heckler is one of the film’s best scenes). While Kazan is unconscious for much of the narrative, she does not get shortchanged in the deal (SPOILER ALERT that is kind of given away by one of the film’s co-writers being alive), as she and Kumail still have to hash everything out once she is awake, which justifies the fairly lengthy running time (right around 2 hours). Ultimately, you can feel that every element of the story is in the right place; surely some elements were fictionalized, but the emotional truth is always full-to-bursting.

The Big Sick is Recommended If You Like: Knocked Up, Master of None, Ruby Sparks

Grade: 5 out of 5 Drop Ins