Though I had heard the positive buzz which surrounded this film I was still not prepared for its excellence and impact. I was blown away. It was one of the films which had the biggest effect on me this year. Though it is mostly a comedy, it is a really dark one with precious few light moments. The issues here are, while the reaction to them is overblown, important and serious. And even more so, real for many, if not most, women.
This is the type of film in which little by little the truth or essence of it comes out. There is plenty of over-the-top stuff which goes on right off the hop in Emerald Fennell’s (first feature film) fantastic film. That is probably what grabs most viewers. Hopefully most will make the slight effort to look beyond that and see the moving and rather frightening reality which drives the story forward.
Not all women will react to sexual assault/rape/sexual harassment as Cassie does. But all or almost all women have been affected by it. Let that sink in for just a moment. Now wonder why this type of revenge film has not been made in film or television before. Why? Because of the patriarchy is the answer. Because of the machinery which has been developed and in place to repress women and quiet their voices. That women won’t be victims and will fight back. That is frightening for those who prop up the patriarchy.
Working in a small coffee shop is not what many who knew her would have thought of for Cassie (Carey Mulligan – Shame, An Education). Even her boss Gail (Laverne Cox – from television’s Orange is the New Black) doesn’t understand it. Cassie was studying to be a doctor and then dropped out. Now here she is. Working at a coffee shop and still living with her parents, Stanley (Clancy Brown – Shawshank Redemption, Thor: Ragnarok) and Susan (Jennifer Coolidge – Legally Blonde, Like a Boss). Being a near thirty year old woman living with her parents, she is seen as a loser.
The frightening part is what she does at night. Going out to clubs and seeking out men. A particular type of man. Then what happens next. Obviously no one knows what is going on. Just Cassie. She plans it all out and keeps track of what she does.
This comes about, as does her life situation, due to something horrific which happened to her friend Nina while they were in university. That set in motion Cassie’s life and what she undertakes at night. She is a woman who is not going to sit back and do nothing when a wrong has been done. Then she meets Ryan (Bo Burnham – Big Sick, Hall Pass) and falls for him. Will this lead to a change in Cassie? Does love conquer all?
Props have to be given to director/screenwriter Emerald Fennell and actress Carey Mulligan for this film. Both are quite brave. This is the type of film which is so essential. Which starts a much overdue conversation. It is being billed as a new take on revenge. In actuality it isn’t. The only difference here is it is a woman. We don’t blink an eye when it is John Wick mowing people down who have killed his dog. But if it is a woman that is seen as subversive and dangerous. Fennell has written a delicious script with big moments and bold dialogue. It not only takes a stand, but does it in an overt and high calibre way. While still being big, brightly coloured and highly watchable. Just the fact that she not only wrote the film but got it done makes her a hero in my mind.
Then there is Carey Mulligan. Now she has constructed a rather enviable career. She does not work too often but when she does ouff. The woman knows how to pick a film/role and bring it to the big screen. Mulligan has been one of those rare actresses who manages to keep her life private and away from the prying lens of the paparazzi. Leads a normal life allowing her work to speak for her. Here she speaks volumes. Just yesterday her excellence was acknowledged with a Best Actress Oscar nomination and it might be her year to win. This role is big, bold and showy. She is perfect as Cassie. The range of emotions she brings to life is amazing. Her Cassie is smart, sarcastic, angry, rude, sad, and even psychotic.
What is essential as a takeaway from the film is that the problem is not just men and their behaviour vis a vis women. The film is not anti-men. Rather it shows how sexual harassment or assault is not just about men. It exists at the level it does because of the complicity of some women. Women who are silent (like Cassie’s mom), ignorant (like her college friend played by Allison Brie) or part of the “system” (like the female dean played Connie Britton by who tows the line). Even our “heroine” operates within a grey area. It is a tough subject with no clear answers. Though films like this show that we cannot continue as we have been, something has to be done and now.
This is a film which will stay for you for a long time after you’ve finished watching it. Effective and affecting. A type of film which doesn’t come along too often, which is a sad thing.