The Pix up to old trix, 03/05/20. (Too excited to shoot straight.)
I'M at the movies
Is this a fucking dream?: An Essay
Albany’s Pix Theatre did something unprecedented Friday night: It opened to the public. What madness beset the Bigners, I know not, but someone should inform them their box office was occupied by a sentient being, their front door relented to the slightest pressure, I’m pretty sure comestibles found their way across the snack bar counter, and about 30 people occupied their sole room, marveling at bludgeoning hues. Oscar Hult was bigger than life in slides shilling local haberdasheries and a giant screen once meant for humans beseeched patrons back to oblivion's loving embrace. We celluloid-starved found succor again.
Jesus fuck, man. Do you know long it’s been since I’ve sat inside a moviehouse, a real moviehouse? Last summer, same place: Bill & Ted Face the Music, before the worldl faced the music (an oompah band of dogshit), and everything fun sealed tighter than my thesaurus’ butthole. March 5 was the first day since then that the Pix wasn’t relegated to sitting pretty and empty on Second Avenue, offering occasional life in the form of movie snacks for home consumption. But we all know watching first-run theatrical features ain’t the same at home, where electronic distractions insist on attention, and plots vanish under onslaughts of sexts. Movies demand size and envelopment, every corner of our conscience packed with info. Streaming's fine for proletarians, but some of us are dead-serious about cinema.
Oh, my God. Trailers. How I’ve missed trailers on screens I can’t wear in my pants. Appetizers before the grand buffet. The quiet life comedy of Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari transforms pastoral Arkansas into an alien expanse too massive for its central Korean American family. Bob Odenkirk ('member when he was solely a comedian?) transforms hangdog suburban-sissy fatherhood into an upright, senses-filling killing machine in Nobody. A giant Michelle Pfeiffer ages gloriously in French Exit. And Nomadland, the much-ballyhooed Frances McDormand vehicle (Oscar talk in an Oscar-impervious season!) that premiered this month on Hulu, travels wide as God intended.
Tonight’s main attraction, however: Emerald Fennell’s debut, Promising Young Woman, which premiered more than a year ago at Sundance when life was normal and should have hit theaters that spring. Instead, it fell into corona-limbo, largely unseen until Christmas before limping to the small screen last month, where the black comic thriller can't translate at the size it requires.
Here we have an evisceration of the fabled Nice Guy, a perfection that doesn’t exist except in carefully scripted film and certainly not in this one. "Woke" is but foreplay, a haphazardly crafted guise. Guys insist they’re nice — one played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a moviegoer couldn’t resist shouting “McLovin!,” as if we've all forgotten the top-grossing comedy of 2007) is working on a novel, but not as assiduously as he’s working the “sensitive” angle for every cheap point he can muster. But when confronted with prey too drunk (Carey Mulligan in another starmaking turn, brilliantly crafty, deliciously sinister) to fight him off, he leaps for the salacious kill. It goes badly. His quarry is actually predator. She staggers into play irresistibly attired: disheveled hair, failing equilibrium, clothing askew. Her diet: assholes luring women home.
The Nice Guy seems to be her favorite treat. We see them here in all incarnations. The chivalrous knight squiring maidens to his door, porkpie hats optional. The Meet Cute puppydawg (Bo Burnham, poor bastard) with self-flagellating jokes but a secret he eventually can’t escape, at which point he drops the veneer and says unspeakable things. The faithful groom (Chris Lowell) at a bachelor party desperate to shield his violent past. More specifically, the reinvented Nice Guy with a deliberately faint trail of unspeakable behaviors. We also witness the deterioration of careful civility when long-buried truths resurface: college deans
(Connie Britton), former classmates (Alison Brie, bubbly 'til she ain't), anguished attorneys (Alfred Molina). Mulligan plays avenging angel for a lost friend wronged and deceived by a host of human locusts. No one’s who they seem, but only one reveals her intent. The others crack slowly, forced into the light. (Gotta say, though, as an '80s brat weaned on Highlander, I find it odd to see Clancy Brown as a loving dad, the only real Nice Guy in a "woke" wolf den.)
The final sequence, near-balletic in its quiet revenge, is deployed to "Angel of the Morning" as clever contrast (far superior to Deadpool's use of same to swing a dumb joke) to the events we've witnessed, one last fuck-you to a crippling memory.
More damning commentary than by-the-numbers thriller, Promising Young Woman needs to drown an audience, its message inescapable. It should be in your face, hammering your ears, inspiring self-reflection. Television can’t do it. That’s the life-affirming magic of film. And film deserves to be massive. Accept no alternatives to your neighborhood cineplex. Welcome back to the colorfully all-encompassing dark.