Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Jennifer Coolidge

QuickView: Promising Young Woman (2020)

“Look how easy that was. I guess you just had to think about it in the right way.”


A bold and unpredictable female revenge thriller, stripped of the male gaze that typifies the genre, Promising Young Woman is an arresting directorial debut from Emerald Fennell. Carey Mulligan’s performance is enthralling, turning on a dime between vulnerable and predatory, but revealing greater emotional depth through her relationships with her parents, her boss and a potential new love interest. The juxtaposition of these softer scenes provides tonal shifts that are uncomfortable without feeling exploitative, since they are about the character’s different headspaces rather than simply a visual cut between sex and violence (indeed, for all the darkness of its subject matter, there is little of either on screen). Cassandra’s strength is her dauntlessness rather than aggression, leading to some wonderfully feminist wish-fulfilment sequences like silently staring down a group of catcalling builders until their bravado falters. The tonal disconnect is heightened through a soundtrack of female-fronted pop, culminating in an instrumental strings cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic that drips with menace. It is the combination of these aspects that makes Promising Young Woman feel so fresh in cinema, a continuation of television experiments like Killing Eve (on which Fennell was a writer). Using this remarkable concoction to make sharp points about rape culture, the prioritisation of men’s reputations, guilt, complicity and historic transgressions, makes this an important — as well as impressive — achievement.


QuickView: Legally Blonde (2001)

Legally Blonde poster

“Because I’m not a Vanderbilt, suddenly I’m white trash? I grew up in Bel Air, Warner.”

Elle Woods

Elle Woods is a spiritual sister of Clueless’ Cher — privileged and superficial but also genuine and caring. Reese Witherspoon carries the film, bringing Elle to life with bubbling charm, but she finds herself in a script that lacks the wit of Clueless and pulls punches in its own attempts at satire. Elle’s boyfriend is so smarmily awful from the moment we meet him that we never want her to win him back even as she follows him to Harvard. Selma Blair is underused as his new girlfriend, a vacillating foil to Elle in a relationship that is never satisfyingly developed. It briefly seems as if the film is setting up a fun revenge story, before it swerves again into courtroom drama. The issue is less the predictability of the plot than its failure to communicate anything: it wants us to sympathise with Elle because her intelligence is overlooked due to her appearance, yet her courtroom success is based on luck, stereotyping and her superficial knowledge rather than legal study. The film actually makes a far better case for the benefit of hiring from diverse backgrounds — which allows Elle to connect with a client and identify information that her colleagues cannot — but this makes the cast’s total lack of diversity intolerable. Witherspoon is effortlessly charming and it’s easy to understand why Legally Blonde is loved by many who find Elle’s success empowering; it is just unfortunate that the weak script undermines much of its own message beyond a useful warning: never underestimate your opponent.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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