Maha’s review published on Letterboxd:
"I don't know why brilliant young women are always punished"—Hannah Gross, Haunting of Bly Manor.
I felt it was appropriate to start with contextually relevant words spoken by a character who also deserved better. Darn you, Flannagan! You soul-sinking genius, you!
We first lay eyes on our promising young woman in a dimly lit bar and sprawled on a blood-red couch in crucifix. Her Legs hang limp and loose, head lolls from side to side, heavy with the burden of intoxication, and perspiration prettily plasters loose locks to delicate features, office-curls twist, with all their might to caress pinched-pink cheeks.
Here lies a sultry siren in a sacrificial stance—strategically sprawled bait to the prying eyes of "nice guys," who, well, aren't so nice.
With unease, we watch Cassie stumble into a cab with none other than Adam Brody--since his rakish rocker, Satan-serving self in 'Jennifer's Body, 'I've been distrustful of the characters he plays. Anyway, as to be expected, the "nice guy" of the night, with worn-in ease, feigns concern; he protects Cassie from ill-intentioned advances, wandering hands that fumble for meat and meaning, and from hungry eyes that blaze out of meth-torched brains like lanterns signaling beware. With one valorous gesture after the other, maybe the guy really is...nice? That is until we wind up at his place, watch him tempt Gin in lieu of a medicinal tonic. Then, without hesitation, "nice guy" makes his first, unwarranted, not-so-nice move, and when Cassie's lips purse with not a solitary indication of consent, he insouciantly presses on.
At this point, I'm uncomfortable. I sink into my trusty beanbag, and breadsticks lie in my palm, half-mutilated by a firmer grip. That grip subsequently loosened when Cassie, borderline unconscious, suddenly looks at us, the viewers, stone-cold sober, shark-like, and with a smile that shimmied into a smirk. She gently lifts herself, her body awake and aware, and with a damning, deadpan stare, she startles Mr "nice guy" with the question on every half-decent person's mind..."What are you doing?".
Now that threw me off. That's the ever-gifting perks of going into a film blind—from then on, I knew I was in for a ride. And what a hell of a twisty and turny ride it was. Some good ol schadenfreude showcasing from our misanthropic ex-med student. Our promising young woman became a precarious one, and I was all for it.
Emerald Fennel's debut has bleak & brutal truth seething under the surface of a cherry-patterned band-aid. I thoroughly enjoyed the teen-girl Tumblr aesthetic, the candied candour of Bo Burnham's 'Ryan' and the lightness that lobbed between him and Cassie as they went on milkshake dates and had in-store dance breaks. The choice of the cinematographic palette, playful and pastel, made transitions into grim, seedy bars, damp with yearning, more effective. Its Barbie meets barbaric.
Obviously, props go to Mulligan's incredible performance. It was heart-breaking to see grief played out in such a nuanced way. This is certainly a divisive film, and I've partaken in many interesting conversations regarding the darker themes and topics presented in its candy-coated confines. It's easy to peg PYW as men-hating/men-bashing; sometimes, it may feel a little heavy-handed on the 'men are lascivious' and probe ladies for every lubricious detail in their interactions. However, Cassandra, a vigilante by day & night, takes no prisoners. Lads and ladies pay their dues, and everyone complicit, either indirectly or directly, was held accountable.
I also must mention the soundtrack; it was meticulously meta. We were gifted a strings version of Britney's bonafide, watershed of an anthem 'Toxic,' and a welcome blast from the past, Hilton's 'Stars Are Blind.' These are two stars who were greedily used, abused, and profited off. If lucrative assets were combined, even Sonic the hedgehog & a quintuple shot expresso couldn't have printed money fast enough. After two explosive documentaries, we've come to find that both had battled domineering demons and faced a time where they became chewed-up residue of a patriarchal system.
Now, without venturing too deeply into spoilerific territory, THAT ending was a bold move; I applaud Fennel for steering the story into THAT direction. THAT being said, her directorial decision came as no surprise since she is the head writer of the deliciously daring and always stylish 'Killing Eve.' I fully recommend giving this a watch; it's a very promising debut.