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Posts Tagged ‘Bo Burnham’

Carey Mulligan

“PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN” My rating: B+ (Theaters Christmas Day)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A heady mashup of female revenge melodrama,  black comedy and ruthless personality study, “Promising Young Woman” will leave audiences laughing, wincing and infuriated.

Writer/director Emerald Fennell (also an actress, she plays Camilla Parker Bowles in the current season of Netflix’s “The Crown”) displays such a firm command of her medium that it’s hard to believe this is her first feature.

When we first see Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) she is slumped splayed legged on a leather bench in a noisy dance club. A twentysomeything guy (Adam Brody) accepts a dare from his  friends to rescue this drunken damsel from her vulnerable position.  He gives her a ride back to his house, pushes more drink on her, deposits her on his bed more or less unconscious, and proceeds to pull down her panties.

And then she sits up, totally sober, and asks him just what the hell he thinks he’s doing.

This, we learn, is Cassie’s M.O.  She pretends to be wasted, allows some jerk to get her in a compromising position, and then forces him to confront his own creepiness.

Funny how quickly a guy can turn from lust to panic.

Fennell’s screenplay carefully rations its revelations as it follows several narrative paths.

In one Cassandra continues her vengeful quest, choosing as her targets not only random predatory men (she has an apparently inexhaustible wardrobe of come-hither fashions, wigs and makeup) but also individuals who were involved in an sexual assault scandal dating back to her college years. Among those who run afoul of her fiendish (though not usually violent) machinations are a college dean (Connie Britton), an old classmate (Alison Brie) and a lawyer (an uncredited Alfred Molina) whose specialty is defending men charged with sex crimes.

Turns out our heroine is really good at dreaming up Fu Manchu-level sadism.  You gotta wonder if she’s a genuinely psycho.

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Elsie Fisher

“EIGHTH GRADE” My rating: A-

94 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Middle school means isolation, mortification and general angst. Such was the case even before cell phones and the internet upped the ante on  peer pressure.

Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” perfectly captures that indefinable sense of adolescent unease.  You may find yourself looking away from the screen as his 14-year-old heroine undergoes yet another wince-inducing humiliation. This film is so true in its harrowing honesty, so aching in its inarticulate yearning that it is almost too much to bear.

But stick with it. With its savagely dead-on sense of humor, its unflinching depiction of pubescent peril and a star-making performance by young Elsie Fisher, the film slowly sucks us in, leaving us wiser, more sympathetic and superbly entertained.

The film follows Kayla (Fisher), a 14-year-old enduring her last week of eighth grade before summer break.  She wants desperately to be somebody — from her bedroom she launches a chirpy daily videocast (“Hi, guys, it’s Kayla back with another video!?”) in which she dispenses advice to her fellow 8th graders. She suspects, though, that nobody  is watching.

And there’s more than a little irony when she tells her possibly nonexistent viewers that  it’s important to be themselves.  As if she has a clue as to her own essence.

It’s not that the other kids are mean to Kayla.  Most of them — like the deb-in-training Kennedy (Catherine Oliviere) — don’t  even acknowledge her existence. That anonymity is both infuriating and suffocating.

All this has made Kayla a very prickly young lady, and she takes out most of her anger and anxiety on her single dad (Josh Hamilton), a chipper optimist whose transparent efforts to instill in his daughter hope and self-worth only fill her with eye-rolling contempt.

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