Pop Culture Worth Your Time: Promising Young Woman, MF Doom, and More
This morning, Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. This weekend, you will probably want to carve out some time to think about stuff that isn't the federal government. Everyone is very tired. Here’s what we at Portland Monthly have been consuming to keep ourselves semi-sane.
The year was almost over. 2020, that terrible, no-good, stinky, rotten year was behind us. Before us, 2021 shone a (murky) light in the tunnel—a new year, a new president, a potential vaccine for the coronavirus. Then, the news came in, as sharp and as deep as a pothole: Daniel Dumile, better known as MF Doom, a pioneer of underground hip-hop, had died.
His family announced the rapper/record producer’s October 31 death on Instagram two months later, and it knocked the breath out of me. Not KMD, not King Geedorah, not Viktor Vaughn, not Madvillainy, Not Doom. Like superheroes, supervillains weren’t supposed to die. Doom had this stoic mysticism about him. Like Sun Ra, Doom had a seemingly undying myth about him, something that existed beyond his music, beyond his intricate lyricism and wordplay, beyond his metal mask in the likeness of Marvel’s Doctor Doom. So when news of his death hit, it seemed too dark to be true. It was like some Andy Kaufman-esque prank, like he’d come back after a few days and announce himself as Doom Unded or something. But it was true: Doom had died, and he wasn’t coming back.
Promising Young Woman
It is only a matter of time before Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman gets swept away in the thinkpiece tide (in truth, it's probably already happened), so let me offer this naive bit of advice: if you can, go into this movie blind. Meet it on its own terms, moment to moment. Do not spoil its major developments for yourself. Try to resist the urge to walk away from it with a tweet-sized take. It's a messy movie, and it's courted incredibly thoughtful analysis from fans and detractors alike—but try to plunge into its mess armed with nothing but your own mind.
The setup is a doozy: Cassie (Carey Mulligan, near-career best, an Oscar shoo-in) is a med school dropout whose life essentially froze in place after her best friend was sexually assaulted. Now each weekend, like clockwork, Cassie heads to a club, pretends to be blacked out, goes home with a "nice guy" who's "just trying to make sure she's safe," and then reveals herself to be stone-cold sober when Mr. Nice Guy makes a move. Eventually, after reconnecting with an old classmate (Bo Burnham, painfully charming), she sets herself on a revenge course that takes some truly shocking turns.
In addition to Burnham, the supporting cast includes Laverne Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, and Adam Brody. Each is perfectly employed. The soundtrack is a cornucopia of slick pop hits, including a spooky string cover of "Toxic" that I will take to my grave. The production design is near-edible. Promising Young Woman is bursting with surface pleasures, all of which effectively muffle the primal rage at its center—until they don't.
Now, the world probably doesn't need a man to unpack this rage-soaked thriller-comedy about rape culture, so let me just say this—Promising Young Woman is a welcome example of something the film industry essentially killed 20 years ago: a mid-budget Hollywood film for adults that hasn't been algorithmed half to death. It's provocative, stylish, and genuinely gutsy, and it resists approaching sensitive subject matter with kid gloves or platitudes. What ties it all together, and keeps it from feeling glib, is Fennell's and Mulligan's shared conviction to play the proceedings, wild and colorful as they get, as a tragedy.
As the title suggests, Cassie is a bright-futured young mind reduced to a revenge machine by a culture that would commodify her body. Even when the film takes big (enormous) swings, it never loses site of that. By the time the credits roll, you feel Cassie's anguish in your bones. Thrilling as it sometimes is, Promising Young Woman is not an easy watch. But it demands your attention and analysis in a way few studio films do anymore, and that's worth celebrating. —Conner Reed, arts & culture editor
Once a week or so, I pick up my Nintendo Switch to play online video games with my friend who moved to Texas to stay with his parents during the pandemic. We were growing tired of Animal Crossing and Splatoon 2, so I asked my friend to recommend a new multiplayer game for us to try. “You should play Stardew Valley,” he said. What he failed to warn me: this 16-bit farming simulator, which visually reminds me of the Game Boy Color Pokemon games of my childhood, is widely known as one of the most habit-forming video games on the planet.