Promising Young Woman

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 3/16/21;
Universal;
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Dark Comedy;
Box Office $5.5 million;
$29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use.
Stars Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Sam Richardson, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Adam Brody.

Striking right at the core of gender relations brought to the fore by the #MeToo movement, Promising Young Woman is a relentless revenge thriller that expertly walks a line between dark comedy, tragedy and drama led by a beautifully nuanced performance from Carey Mulligan, who just received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for it.

Emerald Fennell (who served as showrunner on “Killing Eve” and plays Camilla on “The Crown”) received three well-deserved Academy Award nominations for her directorial debut (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) for this story than broaches a wrenching subject while keeping the audience laughing and gasping on a roller coaster journey through one woman’s pathos and secret fury. (The film also received an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing for a total of five noms.)

Promising Young Woman follows Cassie (Mulligan), a former medical student who was headed for success until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. By day a young woman going nowhere as a barista, by night Cassie lives a secret double life. An unexpected encounter with an old classmate gives her a chance to avenge the wrongs of the past.

At turns a horror story, a romantic comedy and a tragedy, the film plays with familiar tropes in the narrative and film history of male-female relations and power dynamics. With a hot score and vibrant, eye-popping art direction, set design, costumes and makeup, it’s a truly unique film that defies categorization. Dark comedy elements provide levity, but the film also takes a deep dive into the characters’ multiple facets. As noted in the bonus features, the film portrays men who think of themselves as “good guys,” while doing morally questionable, even horrible things. Then there’s Cassie, an engaging, attractive and smart avenging angel/devil who leaves emotional turmoil in her wake. This tension between the light and dark side of humanity allows the actors to explore a layer cake of emotions and elicits some truly great performances.

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Bonus features include three featurettes: “A Promising Vision,” in which Fennell discusses her inspirations for creating the film; “Two-Sided Transformation,” a look at Mulligan in the role of Cassie and how filmmakers used wardrobe, hair and makeup to express the balance between light and dark; and “Balancing Act,” in which cast members discuss their unexpected reactions to the careful balance of levity and tragedy in Fennell’s take on female revenge.

There’s also a commentary with Fennell, who provides a detailed explanation of key elements in the film, including set design, framing, and makeup and costume choices. As do the best commentaries, Fennell’s leaves viewers with a greater appreciation for the artistry and thought process behind this complicated film and makes a second pass through Promising Young Woman with commentary well worth the time.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 1/30/18;
Sony Pictures;
Drama;
Box Office $1.58 million;
$25.99 DVD, $26.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for strong sexual content including brief graphic images, and language.
Stars Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Oliver Platt, Connie Britton.

The story of Wonder Woman’s creators is so fascinating that it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t been the subject of a movie until now. Of course, it only took 75 years to bring the most iconic female superhero of all time to the big screen, so who’s to say with these things?

Certainly the resurgent popularity of Wonder Woman in the past few years, thanks to her appearances in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and her own solo film, sparked a renewed focus on her origins as a character. And societal taboos likely muted the true extent of the salaciousness surrounding her creation in ways it really takes the passage of decades to appreciate. Still, this better-late-than-never docu-drama is a well-timed accompaniment to her cinematic adventures.

Conventional wisdom holds that Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist who invented the lie-detector test and wanted to create a positive role model for young girls in the vein of how Superman influenced young boys. But there’s so much more to it than that.

But the deeper truth is that Marston and his wife, Elizabeth, were involved in a fetishistic, polyamorous relationship with his research assistant, Olive Byrne. Both women would provide major help and inspiration in creating Wonder Woman.

Many of these “how something was created” type of movies seem to rely mostly on nostalgia to carry the story, hoping audiences will appreciate seeing the introduction of all their favorite traits.

With Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, however, writer-director Angela Robinson isn’t so much interested in the nostalgia behind Wonder Woman’s creation, but what drove the people responsible for it. To that end, the film is structured with a framing device of Marston (Luke Evans) defending the Wonder Woman comic book to a censorship board after it, like many comic books at the time, is labeled a subversive element.

Then, in flashbacks, we learn the circumstances of Marston’s relationship with Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), a fierce academic resentful that she isn’t being taken seriously in a university system dominated by men. The arrival of Olive (Bella Heathcote) inspires lustful tendencies in both of them, and as they develop the lie-detector their three-way relationship quickly turns sexual. Rumors of their unconventional relationship cause them to be shunned.

In need of work, Marston creates Wonder Woman as a means of using comic books to spread a subtle feminist message. Elements of the bondage and role play in his own sexual life seep into his writing, with Wonder Woman known as much for her suggestive outfits and lasso of truth as she is her strength and heroism. Marston tying her origins to Greek mythology then comes across as a thinly veiled excuse to infuse lesbian overtones into the comic, in the guise of an island of paradise populated entirely by women.

Ultimately, though, the core of the film is the relationship between William, Elizabeth and Olive, and their struggles to stay together amid the pressures of societal norms.

The idea that the three of them as a group should be considered the creator of Wonder Woman is put forth in a motion comic on the Blu-ray called “The Secret Identity of Charles Moulton,” which was the pen name Marston used to obscure from the academic community that he was writing comic books.

The eight-minute featurette “A Dynamic Trio: Birth of a Feminist Icon” is a more conventional piece about the real-life characters, while the six-and-a-half-minute “A Crucial Point of View” featurette focuses on Robinson’s motivations for making the film.

The Blu-ray also includes three interesting deleted scenes that run a total of about five-and-a-half minutes.