Matthew at the Movies: Sound of Metal (2019) and Promising Young Woman (2020)

To round out the Oscar nominees for ‘Best Picture’ I’ve left to review are Sound of Metal (2019) and Promising Young Woman (2020). Hoo boy.

Directed by Darius Marder and written by Darius and his brother, Abraham, Sound of Metal follows Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a drummer, who begins to lose his hearing and has to come to grips with his future of silence.

First off, the lead performance by Ahmed is fantastic. There’s not a single dull aspect about it. He sells every moment of his journey. He deserves the nomination for Best Leading Actor, without a doubt. The other performances are equally as strong with Olivia Cooke plays Lou, Ruben’s bandmate and girlfriend, and Paul Raci as Joe, a deaf man who runs a shelter for other deaf people. Both Cooke and Raci are very strong in their roles, especially Raci and his scenes with Ahmed.

The greatest achievement of the film is its sound and technique of it. The film follows a man going deaf, so the film tries to make you experience that journey as well. The sound will blare, cut in and out, ring, or vibrate. Whenever the hearing goes away, you hear the vibrations of people speaking or walking, but you don’t hear it. The best way to watch this is with headphone, there’s no other way. (4.5/5)

The film is available to watch and rent on Amazon.

Promising Young Woman, written and directed by Emerald Fennell, follows Cassandra (Carey Mulligan), a young woman haunted by an event from her past as she takes revenge on the predatory men unlucky enough to cross her path.

Cassandra goes to bars and plays drunk, so then men will take her home to their apartment. The men start to get frisky, and then… Cassandra gives them a stern talking-to. That’s all she does. She doesn’t maim them, or hurt them, or kill them (like she should), but she just talks to them. Okay, fine.

Then, she goes after complacent women that ignored her friend’s assault. She makes one woman think she was assaulted and makes another think her daughter was assaulted. She’ll scare the women but won’t do anything to the men?

The film, according to Fennell, is a subversion of the ‘rape-revenge’ genre. For those of you that don’t know, that genre of film follows a character, usually a woman, after being abused and assaulted, usually by a man, they get sweet revenge on the people that hurt them. The genre hit its peak in the 1970s’ after the second wave of feminism called for better treatment of women in the United States.

The genre, similar to the horror film, is all about female empowerment and taking down the people that push you down. The genre was birthed out of the anger of the inability of violence. The ending of a ‘rape-revenge’ film is always satisfying, with the abusers and rapists dead or dying. Fennell, for whatever reason, opted a different approach, and one that could’ve been done better.

Cassandra’s quest is one of selfishness and self-righteousness. She’s trying to avenge her friend in some vain hope to forgive herself. She co-ops her friend’s pain and tries to make it about her. The film doesn’t make it clear whether Cassandra’s intentions are good or not, but I’m leaning towards the ladder based on interviews with Fennell.

It’s very difficult to talk about this film without being very specific. I might even do that as a separate article, But, for now, I’ll just talk broadly.

The film is a dark, bitter satire, or, at least, it’s trying to be. There are some moments that work, but it mostly falls flat on its face. The performances are nothing note-worthy. Mulligan is unimpressive and dull. There’s a great scene with Alfred Molina, and that’s it. The writing is forced and one-note, it sounds like a first draft. It doesn’t sufficiently engage in the topic it’s trying to promote. It says nothing new or interesting about our modern society and rape culture.

The film has a few bones to pick, such as the “let boys be boys” or the “we were young” sediment, the “nice guy” mentality, complacent women who don’t speak up, and, really, everybody that’s complacent and perpetuates that system, but the film isn’t commenting on these things in an insightful or new way. Every hope that the film would say something of value is gone after the ending, which is probably one of the most insulting things I’ve ever seen.

Yes, its intentions probably were empathetic, but it ends up being reductionist and hollow. The film, unlike other ‘rape-revenge’ films, doesn’t end hopefully or in any satisfying way. I don’t want to say the film is pretending to be woke-feminist-performatism, but that’s what it feels like. It isn’t radical or smart, it’s just safe and backhanded. 

The film tries to do so many things and it succeeds at none of them. It’s insulting, unimpressive garbage marketed as powerful and poignant empowerment. You can expect to see this at my bottom five of the year. (2/5)

The film is available to rent on Amazon.

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