Julian Towers’s review published on Letterboxd:
Had heard for months that this film was hella schematic. Was still somehow surprised to discover, huh, this film is hella schematic.
Hella schematism is not— of course— an inherent problem, but it is a problem here. Two reasons.
A. This film is not impressively hella schematic.
Despite the title, Fennel had no real interest in crafting a character study here. She has placed us thoroughly outside of Cassie-- intending to grant her gamesmanship a Machiavellian mystique by never keying us into her preparations or the psychological toll thereof. This is to the point that even the initial spark for her shame-campaign— a narrative moment which would be immensely significant in a film that had any true interest in the emotional profile of an individual pushed to revenge— is sped past as through it were irrelevant. Like, what? Bo Burnham drops a few names— names that Cassie has clearly never forgotten— and suddenly she realizes that everybody that ruined her life (and Nina's life) have occupied the same 8 square mile radius as her for years. Like If you cared enough to sublimate all your rage into a symbolically related vigilante campaign against local creeps, wouldn't you have cared enough to go after the OGs, like, many many many years prior? IMO the whole "OMG HE'S GETTING MARRIED. MUST PREVENT" angle is not strong enough to combat the dubiousness here.
And this is not the end of the verisimilitude problems, either; we're supposed to believe that somebody who has put her life at risk every week for years— with no contingency plan or real exit strategy at all— could transform into the jigsaw killer overnight?
But okay, whatever. Cassie is a plot device, a symbolic avenger-- not a human being. It's not the film I would have wanted from this premise, but it's one that could have worked. But alas, iff yr gonna subordinate all credible psychological content to twisteroonies and therefore bank on yr audience's sustained awe/intrigue at narrative machinations, you gotta put on a good show. You gotta HughJackmanPrestige a guy, ya know? But Jesus, the contrivance quotient here is almost offensive. Alison Brie just hanging onto that fucking cell-phone footage for years is one thing (Werner Herzog voice: "You should never listen to it. You should rather destroy it") but Fennel actually suggests that many other people from this university have it as well! And this shit never came out??? Okay okay, I get it... this is a political comment about apathy, Kitty Genovese, whatever... BUT YOU'RE ALSO TELLING ME THERE WAS A LAWSUIT WITH DEFENSE ATTORNEY'S ACTUALLY *TAMPERING* WITH EVIDENCE AND THEY STILL DIDN'T GET TO THIS?!?! And what's the deal with the cops at the end immediately arresting the correct murderers and nobody else? Sure Cassie's note to the lawyer ( btw, an absurd, improbable, unbelievable characte- I mean plot device) probably mentioned she was targeting Al, but there were a bunch-a-dudes at that party, and assumably they're all present at the wedding as well. Any one of them could have conceivably done the deed. Fennel certainly never cuts to any of them snitching. Even if you argue (correctly) that such details are irrelevant to the actual endgame, the fact that Fennel didn't even consider the plot hole makes me wonder just what kind of thriller-thing she thought she was making. Again, this is *not* a character study.
B. (did you forget I was making a list-- I did)
The fact of this film's hella schematism is spiritually divergent with its themes and (especially) with its aims.
Okay, you say-- all that may be true (or hey-- may not be true!), but such quibbles are irrelevant. This is an important fucking movie. Like, how many major Oscar winning motion pictures have addressed the specific plight of sexual patriarchy and placed the onus for its horrors ENTIRELY on men? What are the odds this film's accusatory stance just made you uncomfortable and that all yr screenwriting jargon is just lame cover? Like, hey asshole, you just got out of college. How did you treat the woman in your life anyway?
And yeah. I was a shit boyfriend, a shit lay, and pretty much generally shit. Not illegally so, but my pathetic need to qualify my cretinism on a movie review site should be taken as evidence and submitted to the generalized case against me (insert Christopher Mintz-Plasse "yeah the patriarchy is fucked up" gif and an "it me" caption... except obviously I'm hot)
So why didn't this film make me uncomfortable? It certainly seems to presuppose and encourage our worst assumptions about Cassie; right from the opening smash cut to her "blood-soaked" arms, we're being prodded to leap to scandalous conclusions that Fennel and her hella-schematism can then wield against us in the form of sanitary reality (aha it's jelly, asshole). Dangling the potential that Cassie has vicariously raped both Alison Brie and Connie Briton's daughter (and for the former, for an extended duration) is something that I can totally understand seeming really bold and edgy to a screenwriter...but, like, I'm sorry. It's not bold or edgy, and that's because it's not built last. Problem is that the confrontational element is not gendered, as imo it should be (i.e men, women and everybody in between-- we're all being played for dopes by the screenplay). Problem b is the fact that, at the end of the day, there's nothing at all ethically objectionable about Cassie's methods-- nothing of the ends vs means quality to debate-- ultimately renders the misdirection thematically adrift and essentially pointless. Problem C (the biggest, imo) is that Fennel's emphasis on wan audience games connects to the void of character and psychology that is Cassie. Like these gambits can only work if the audience really has no bead on what kind of person she is and what she is prepared to do (and the fact that she's ultimately not an enigma, just a really clever and ethical person, retroactively render this obscurity pointless). And imo this REALLY sits abreast of Fennel's message here. Throughout this film, how many times does Cassie accuse one of her "victims" of not caring to learn her name or what she does for a living (or, relatedly, accuse one of her female "victims" of not remembering or caring about Nina). Promising Young Woman's whole thesis is that the misdeeds of men are aided and abetted by a culture that places no value in the autonomy and individuality of women. And... like... for those themes to translate you need to make a film that places value in the autonomy and individuality of its lead character as something other than a vehicle for narrative, and that didn't happen here. You can feel that failure most grievously in Molly Shannon's single (ONE!) scene; like talk about pure function-- "oh I should probably write one scene to just, like, focus on the emotions." That little porch chat— what with it re-written police squadron dialog ("YOU NEED TO LET THE PAST GO") and hand-me-down approximation of what these two people, who've gone through so much horror, might talk about— that might be the worst scene of the year. Totally alien shit. Like you can tell this is a movie that has no conception of quotidian and trauma and everyday life because every scene that isn't of immediate narrative significance signals the fact by having the characters eat food. Like in the Bo Burnham dating montage thats literally all we see. This is political filmmaking for the superhero era.
Anyway this was a rant, and in my single-minded attack I papered over some 2.5 star worthy elements of quality (the pacing, the acting, and elements of Fennel's directing are all stellar), but yeah... you hear me.
also I couldn't fit it in any where but fuck is up with that pharmacy scene? Did the production just have that location and 30 minutes to improv something? Bizarre.