Dear Evan Hansen Movie Musical Review

Melodrama: the Musical! Dear Evan Hansen, based on the Tony award winning musical by the same name, is a movie for people who have struggled with social anxiety or depression, like musicals in general, or were unpopular in high school. So, pretty everyone who was a member of the Drama Club. One of the most highly anticipated movies of 2021, this landmark Broadway musical loses much of its pizzaz once adapted for the screen. Every decade, there comes a time when Broadway musical adaptations are all the rage, but some stories simply work better on stage than screen. Not having seen the stage production, I cannot comment on elements that were lost, but it strikes me as a story that simply works better when performed live than captured on celluloid. Dear Evan Hansen is an emotionally manipulative derivative movie musical in the vein of 13 Reasons Why. But I have to say, even the dialogue in the aforementioned titular young adult TV series was more thoughtful. For all the film’s desperate desire to depict a socially-relevant, tough subject matter, it plays off as superficial virtue signaling whose veneer is merely two-dimensional.

Evan Hansen is an anxious, isolated high-school student who’s aching for understanding and belonging amid the chaos and cruelty of the social media age. He soon embarks on a journey of self-discovery when a letter he wrote for a writing exercise falls into the hands of a grieving couple whose son took his own life.

Much of the talent from the Broadway musical is carried over into the film. Most notably, actor Ben Platt, who plays the title character Evan Hansen. Let’s get the obvious out of the way. There’s been some skepticism and hate surrounding the movie ever since the trailer dropped, mainly because Ben Platt (27) is playing a high school student. Is it distracting? Very. But once you get past it, he does deliver a good performance. Obviously, he knows this character well, much better than the movie knows itself. Moreover, Julianne Moore and Amy Adams also deliver great performances as the mothers of Evan and Connor (the deceased boy), respectively. In addition to our lead and supporting actors, the film pulled from film industry talent as well in front of and behind the camera.

Also on board is Stephen Chbosky, director of acclaimed coming of age films The Perks of being a Wallflower and Wonder but he doesn’t bring that same level of thoughtfulness to this movie. Which was perhaps an insurmountable task not only because of the hype from the musical, but also because it’s such a heavy subject to touch upon. There are some interesting visual choices and innovative techniques like the way it portrays the internet but the emotions don’t always hit right. This film rides a fine line between drama and comedy and sometimes overshoots by having some scenes be too sappy and over dramatic and other scenes that make light of sensitive subjects like suicide, which might be off putting to some people.Perhaps he was strong-armed by the Broadway producers to execute scenes a particular way, but we can only speculate as to why he doesn’t seem to care as much about these characters as he did with his other young adult/coming of age films.

The well-known songs from the musical were certainly the highlight for audiences. Fortunately, the director chose to provide sufficient space between songs in order to allow for an emotional reset. Whereas the show-stopping numbers are usually performed with gusto, these songs were much more subtle. And like musical numbers should, each piece sufficiently moved the melodramatic plot forward. The amount of musical numbers isn’t a whole lot and none are these big showy sequences with choreography, but I like that. I’m not sure if the stage performance is like that, but the lowkey nature of those numbers fits well.

The film also threads a fine line between drama and comedy which makes it engaging but might also be off putting for some because it at times makes light of sensitive subjects like suicide.
The characters are not completely surface level but seem to represent the high school stereotypes of the 2010s (and 2020s so far); basically what the typical jocks, nerds, etc. were to generations past. Furthermore, this movie tries to paint a picture of the 2010s high school landscape, similar to what films like Mean Girls did for generations past, but ultimately falls short. The characters are not entirely two dimensional and different from those familiar archetypes of previous decades and certainly more “diverse.” For example, the popular, successful girl is shown to have some depth and the protagonist nerdy not really-friend makes an off hand remark which tells us he is gay they still mostly come off as a new set of stereotypes to populate the Gen Z high school.

All in all this movie still tries to tell a somewhat original story with memorable songs and performances. And it delivers a positive message about connection, which is something that everybody, not just young people, needs. This is especially true in these times. So, if this films sounds like something you’d enjoy then go see it; if it doesn’t, then don’t.

This review was written by Leon Zitz, German contributor to the R.L. Terry ReelView.

Candyman (2021) Review

Candyman (2021) - IMDb

Sweet on the outside, sour on the inside. A visually impressive attempt to provide a thoughtful exploration on duality and identity, is overshadowed by heavy-handed ideology. Nia DaCosta delivers audiences a spiritual sequel to the cult horror film Candyman (1992) that is grounded in much of the lore of the original, yet forges a new frontier that simultaneously serves as a vehicle for horror legend Tony Todd to pass the hook onto Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. DaCosta is joined by writer-producer Jordan Peele and screenwriter Win Rosenfeld to “tell everyone” who dares to look in a mirror and call out his name five times. Admit it, even in our most rational state, we are still a little apprehensive to stare at our reflection and call out Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candym–. That’s the power of horror films! These fictional stories on screen have their mystical ways of affecting the collective conscious in such a manner that we change or question our behavior. Another great example of this effect is the iconic highway scene in Final Destination 2. And challenging audiences was certainly what the three screenwriters had in mind when writing the story for Candyman (2021). Unfortunately, the agenda-driven message steels the focus away from the stunning visuals, and ultimately fails to effectively paint a portrait of reality that invites all to engage in the important conversations the film is trying to have, instead, alienating audience members that don’t share the filmmakers’ opinions. Suffice it to say, this film is Peele for the course.

In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, rising star artist Anthony (Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman (Todd). Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence. (IMDb)

If you’ve never seen the original Candyman, don’t worry. While having seen the original will certainly help audiences to appreciate world-building and backstory elements, there is enough context given to help those that may be unfamiliar. Following the screening I attended, I heard individuals negatively critique the retconning of plot elements in the original; truth is, the parts of the original that were reimagined to fit the backstory of 2021’s Candyman were thoughtfully adapted.

While I have my reservations with the film, I would be remiss to not highlight the excellent direction, cinematography, editing, costuming, production design, and even the performances! Visually, the movie is stunning! All the mise-en-scene elements work together to create a BIG SCREEN experience. And talk about outstanding performances. Back in the heyday of the slashers (late 70s through the 90s), we did not expect to be impressed by the performances of the cast. And while there are notable exceptions of horror films WITH brilliant performances, usually it’s not expected. Over the last 7–10 years, horror films have been stepping up their performance game. The lead and most of the supporting cast will all captivate you. Unfortunately, there are useless characters like Brianna’s (Anthony’s girlfriend’s) brother and his boyfriend. Having no real affect on the plot, this interracial gay couple was little more than a token that could be removed from the movie, and the movie still play out the same way. However, if it weren’t for these two characters, the movie would be lacking ANY humor. So I suppose that was their purpose, to add humor.

There are so many beautifully crafted shots and shot sequences in this film. From juxtapositions of the old meeting with the new to geometric shapes and lines, there are many excellent compositions. The production and set design and lighting, of this film, are used in similar ways that the designs in expressionism are used. Expressionism uses the design of buildings, costumes, lighting, and camera angles to externalize emotions, psycho-social states of being, and ideas. And with expressionism being part of the formula of horror (expressionism+surrealism+Poe+Freud), it makes sense how and why there would be this care shown in the mise-en-scene.

All the backstory elements are communicated through the brilliant use of shadow puppets. The shadow puppet sequences are perhaps my favorite recurring diegetic device used in the film. Not only do these shadow puppets provide exposition, they also move the plot forward in action and subtext.

The idea of shadow puppets as a storytelling device is best explored in Plato’s Cave. French film theorist Jean-Louis Baudry likened the movie theatre to Plato’s famous allegory Plato’s Cave found in Plato’s Republic. But since we’re not all film or philosophy theorists, here is a quick explanation of Plato’s Cave:

The allegory states that there exists prisoners chained together in a cave. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners are people carrying puppets or other objects. This casts a shadow on the other side of the wall. The prisoners watch these shadows, believing them to be real. Essentially, what Plato is exploring is the concept of “belief vs knowledge.” The prisoners (or audience) in this analogy believe the images on the wall as reality; when in actuality, it is only the puppeteers version of reality. The analogy goes on further to describe a prisoner breaking free and venturing from the cave out into the real world. Two things happen (1) the newly freed prisoner completely rejects the imagery in the cave and returns to warn the prisoners of their one-dimensional view of reality, and risk being killed for a radical view, or (2) the freed prisoner fears or cannot reconcile actual reality and retreats back into the cave, where there is comfort in the surroundings, to warn the prisoners not to leave. Therefore, this highlights how a lack of knowledge leads to blind belief.

Despite being centuries old, the allegory is appropriate for filmmaking. After all, the audience watches images on a screen. We’re meant to believe it to be real, but we know it’s false. Only when we step out of the theater back into reality can we take what we’ve learned in the cinema and apply it to our lives. In a literal sense, a movie is just a series of images. But digging deeper, they present unique ideas and themes that we can take with us into the real world. Numerous movies utilize this concept in their plots and themes. You have probably seen films where a character believes one reality and then becomes exposed to another, greater reality and is never the same. In the case of 2021’s Candyman, DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld have metaphorically trapped the audience in an ideological cave to present their versions of our reality that exists outside the cinema’s doors.

The movie has some great kills! But it highlights a moral problem plaguing this movie. From the art gallery to the critic to the girls at the prep school, the only victims, to meet their gruesome demise ON screen, are white characters. While there are a couple of off-screen deaths of black characters, the only ones in the visible mise-en-scene to meet with Candyman’s iconic hook are white. Had this movie been directed and/or written by a white writer-director and only killed and disparaged black characters, there would already be a #cancel campaign on Twitter. In my five years as a film professor and seven years as an active critic, I cannot ever recall a horror movie (in particular, a slasher movie) that ONLY killed black characters and disparaged the black community in virtually every scene from the opening to the closing. So if that would not be tolerated by the public–and for good reason, a movie released like that in 2021 (or ever) would be in incredibly poor, despicable, disrespectful taste–then the inverse should not be acceptable here.

I get what DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfeld are trying to do with this horror movie. From the time of Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, horror has been used to comment on societal observations to either warn of an impending dangerous ideology, to provide allegorical material that can be used as a framework to better understand marginalized groups, or even to challenge systems or institutions. Which is why horror is often far more truthful than a straight drama. Of course, one can make the argument that this is a fictional film in a fictional Chicago, which is not untrue; however, the problem therein is that little (if anything) in this fictional Chicago sets it apart from the real world, except for the supernatural character of Candyman, because these filmmakers have a point to make. But the problem here is that the very people that these writers want to challenge are the very people that are being unfairly represented in the movie. How is any of that constructive to the conversations of race relations and policing??? Short answer: it’s not.

The symbolism I did appreciate in the film are the moments that we explore the duality in ourselves and our environments. This is represented through literal and metaphoric reflection. Mirrors (or reflections) are regularly used to communicate duality. One of the best examples in recent years, in how mirrors are an effective cinematic device, is the mirror scene in I, Tonya. Just before her final competition in the film, as Tonya is applying her high contrast makeup, we witness in the mirror the internal struggle. On the outside, she is this accomplished figure skater (probably the best athlete the sport has ever seen) but on the inside she is tormented by her mother, her abusive marriage, and what she did or didn’t know about the incident. Likewise, in Candyman we explore the history and identity of Anthony and his neighborhood. Anthony has a secret in his past that has been painted over, that is trying to resurface, and his neighborhood of Cabrini Green has a sordid history that it has tried to cover and hide behind a fresh coat of paint. History is always there. It cannot be erased. And if it’s not dealt with, it can become a specter and haunt you and your environment. The mirrors and other reflective surfaces of Candyman are brilliantly used to communicate this idea of duality.

It is clear that DaCosta is a gifted director, but I hope that she works with different writers in the future that can find that balance of commenting on or raising awareness of something important, but also finding the ways to bring everyone to the table for a thoughtful discussion. The power of cinema, and in particular horror films, is that it can bring diverse groups of people together from all walks of life to both be entertained and challenged through screams, jumps, and laughter.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

Old (2021) Mini Review

Welp, that’s an hour and a half, or 18 months, of my life on which I’ll never see a return. M.Night Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again in his latest film about one of the most primal fears of all: aging. From the moment we are born, we start to die, and it’s that fear of aging and death that links everyone on earth together. While many horror films feature slashers, ghouls, demons, monsters, the living dead, nature on a rampage, or just your mother-in-law, the chances of you encountering any of those are about as slim as Netflix reviving Santa Clarita Diet–well, except for the mother-in-law; that one is likely. Shyamalan chooses to focus on the one fear we all share: the ravages of aging. And it’s because of this, that virtually every character in the film is relatable on some level (unfortunately that level is quite minimal). Combine the primal fear of the inevitability of aging with the ticking time bomb literary device, and you have the makings of a thrilling plot. That is, if this plot and these characters weren’t written by the cinematic king of head-scratch bizarre endings, huh?, and what the? moments. Since his feature debut of The Sixth Sense in 1999, I am convinced that M.Night is a gifted director. But he should probably work with more talented screenwriters. What we have here is an original premise (as far as I know) with so much potential for intense windup and explosive delivery; moreover, there is even a prime opportunity to have thoughtful commentary on aging, emotionally, physically, and mentally. It’s all there! But sadly, and to my bewilderment, M.Night chooses to simply move the characters around the island aimlessly, with only occasional meaningful conflict that serves a greater purpose than simply the shortest distance between action beats A and B. Other than the mechanics of screenwriting themselves, perhaps the biggest problem is trying to focus on too many main ideas. He should have had one main action plot, and then supported it with emotionally or psychologically-driven subplots that weave together to point back to the central idea he was trying to convey. Unfortunately, OLD is a convoluted collection of ideas, none of which are ever thoughtfully developed and strategically executed.

For my full thoughts, you will need to listen to me on the Reel Spoilers podcast on July 29, 2021.

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Ryan teaches American and World Cinema at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“LAND” Film Review

A thoughtful exploration of PTSD, grief, and isolation that takes you on a journey that will ultimately lift your spirits and leave you with hope. Robin Wright’s directorial debut LAND is a breathtaking motion picture best experienced on the BIG SCREEN. And fortunately, it’s currently only available on the big screen. From the sweeping mountain landscapes to intimate character moments, this motion picture is an audacious yet simple story. Wright’s film is a punctilious, existential character study about the importance of connection even when isolation seems to be the only choice to work though (or avoid, as it were) traumatic, debilitating stress. Land an intelligent, emotionally moving work of cinematic art. So often character study films find themselves on the verge, if not intentionally, manipulating the audience; however, this film finds the balance in delivering the thoughtful moments and plot direction. That said, the third act does feel a bit rushed after the methodical first two acts. When actors transition to writer or director, there is historically a tendency to be self-indulgent, sometimes to the point of crafting one’s own Oscar or sizzle reel, in an effort to demonstrate the breadth of talent that they feel their previous directors or producers have hindered them from fully showcasing, but that is not the case with Wright’s LAND. While Wright is demonstrating that she can successfully direct a motion picture, she is making this film for any and everyone who has suffered a great loss or experienced a psychologically damaging trauma. With minimal dialogue, especially in the first act, Wright takes a page out of the Norma Desmond school of filmmaking, and relies upon the power of the eyes and nuance of body language to say everything. “I can say anything with my eyes,” –Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard).

When Edee (Robin Wright) cannot find solace in her therapist or sister following a tragedy, she buys an isolated home in the mountain wilderness of Wyoming, and completely disconnects from the outside world. “No phones, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury…,” you get the idea. Not fully prepared for the harshness of living on the frontier, she finds herself at the brink of death when a local hunter Miguel (Demian Bichir) and nurse Alawa (Sarah Dawn Pledge) come to her rescue. Although Edee is thankful for saving her life, she is resistent to any further help or company. Through her geographic and social isolation, Edee learns the value of human connection.

At its heart, LAND is a character-driven story about loss and grief so unimaginable that it drives one to the brink of death. And Wright does a brilliant job at visually communicating the immenseness of this pain through the use of placing the central character of Edee against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain wilderness. When one experiences an intense psychological trauma, it’s almost as if the entire once-familiar landscape has radically changed, and has it in for you. Throughout the introductory scenes and even the first act as a whole, Edee displays great pain. But it’s not big and loud pain; it’s nuanced and understated, but no less powerful and moving, eliciting great empathy from the audience. The screenwriters strategically withhold the details about the trauma that led Edee to make her radical decision to escape to the wilderness to escape the pain of reality. However, we are given little crumbs of exposition through the effective use of brief flashbacks paired with intense plot beats. Through these brief flashbacks, we learn that Edee has a sister named Emma; but we also get glimpses of a man and boy (that we later learn is Edee’s lost husband and son). By the screenwriters keeping these cards close to their chest, the audience keeps the focus on Edee’s present journey, and it has the added benefit of driving up the suspense.

Up to the point of Edee’s near death experience due to hypothermia, the film has an incredibly somber tone with little to no hope in sight. But with the introduction of Miguel and Alawa, the film undergoes a tonal shift. Not only do these good Samaritans save Edee’s life, but Miguel becomes an unexpected companion, teacher, and eventual friend. Apprehensive to the idea of human company, Edee eventually finds value in the survival lessons that Miguel can teach her. Against her initial reaction to this new-found neighbor, she accepts Miguel’s offer but asks that he not tell her anything of the outside world. Edee learned early on that Miguel has his own trauma that he’s working through, and uses hunting and quiet times in the wilderness as his therapy. Watching these two interact with one another, softens the tone of the film even though the specter of Edee’s anger remains active beneath the surface. Still, we can tell that she is consistently processing her experience and reaction thereof as she learns to live off the land. Over the months the Edee is learning from Miguel, we witness that Edee is strong and capable, and isn’t allowing the loss of her family to leave her a victim. Rather than becoming a prisoner of or exploiting her suffering, she uses it as motivation. She turns her immense pain into something proactive and meaningful.

While shooting a film in such a breathtaking setting may provide temptation to capture the majestic beauty of the Wyoming Rockies to the extent that the film merely becomes a series of postcards that happen to contain some plotting and conflict, LAND never shifts focus from our central character. The environment in which she finds herself manifests an extension of the emotional turmoil. Despite the grand beauty of the setting, it never feels entirely safe. Danger looms around every corner, because it was successfully setup right from the very beginning. Much in the same way that the set and production design of a gothic romance or German expressionism film creatively manifest the emotional subtext and tone of the film, the mountainous landscape of LAND very much does the same. When we are internalizing trauma, whether it’s by intentional choice or subconsciously, the image we project may be positive and beautiful, not unlike the mountains that surround Edee’s shack. But that shack represents the turmoil that has taken up residence within our mind.

For all the avant-garde elements of Wright’s LAND, she directed an accessible character-study motion picture that most audiences can appreciate and understand. All the while, Wright doesn’t have to hold our hands along the treacherous pathways. While the plot is simple, this film provides a great opportunity to have conversations about the affects of trauma, especially when it’s unimaginable. Whether you have found yourself in the depths of depression and self-imposed isolation as Edee or not, you will be able to connect to this relatable character because we have all lost someone dear to us (most recently, I lost my grandmother). Perhaps you have chosen a different method for coping with your grief, but this is how Edee chose to deal with hers. It’s a journey to which we can relate, as so often we don’t really know what to do with our anger following tragedy. Sometimes we too may feel that we want to escape from it all, but we eventually learn that we need human connection in order to survive.

This is a motion picture truly best experienced on the BIG SCREEN at THE CINEMA. Cinemas are hard at work to create a safe environment for you. I am a regular at the Universal Cinemark, and have never felt unsafe.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1

“Promising Young Woman” film review

An intriguing story on a timely topic with lots of promise; however, it ultimately leaves little room for redemption. But hey, Mulligan’s performance was truly outstanding! After being away from the cinema for over a month in the wake of my grandmother’s passing just before Christmas, I returned to the Universal Cinemark. Usually, I am on top of new theatrical releases, but I was unable to attend the cinema while out of town. So I am just now getting to Promising Young Woman. As such, I’ve been able to read tweets, read blogs, and listen to reviews of this film. Needless to say, I was expecting one of the best films of 2020; unfortunately, that is not the case. While the film showcases an exceptional performance by Carey Mulligan, and even a solid performance by Bo Burnham, the film fails to follow some basic narrative conventions. There was such a fantastic opportunity to comment on toxic college culture, including the epidemic of higher education covering-up sexual assault, the rationalization of not taking responsibility for one’s actions, and (this is where the film fails its audience) the ability for one to have a redemption arc. Where is the redemption in the film? Nowhere to be found. However, we have an excellent example of what happens when one refuses to forgive. Unforgiveness is like a poison that eats away at the mind and soul. Forgiveness does not equal forgetting nor pretending that everything is okay. For a film that was full of promising teachable moments, it succumbs to the narrative trap of an inability to acknowledge that change is possible. If Scrooge can be redeemed, so can we all.

Synopsis: Nothing in Cassie’s (Carey Mulligan) life is what it appears to be — she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter with a former colleague Ryan (Bo Burnham), she sees this as a chance to right the wrongs from the past.

Before I get into the issues I take with the message, plot, and narrative, I want to highlight what the film delivered well. Standing out, is the phenomenal performance by Mulligan. While my personal principle of only watching/reviewing films that have an exclusive theatrical run limit the scope of what I can cover, from the 2020 films that I did see, her performance is certainly a standout from the year. This showcase performance is likely to land her a Best Actress in a Leading Role nomination at the Oscars and Globes. I greatly appreciate how the character of Cassie is both colorful, and glossy one moment, and dark and terrifying the next. Even simultaneously conveying the complexities of a character suffering from a personal hell brought on by unresolved trauma. The other performance of note is Bo Burnham’s as Ryan. While not as notable a performance as Mulligan’s, there is still a lot to be admired in this role, which is largely a departure from the majority of the roles from his past. This film serves as a conduit for him to showcase his acting chops in a more serious role. Even though his performance may not land him on any awards lists, it’s still a performance that will undoubtedly land him future leading roles. And hopefully one of those future roles will give him a more complex character to portray.

Despite my reservations with the plot, I cannot not acknowledge this directorial accomplishment by Emerald Fennell. Clearly, Fennell’s penchant for direction is witnessed in this film. While she has been nominated for her television screenwriting, where she shines in this film is in her role as director. Each scene is directed skillfully, and thoughtfully. Of all the great scenes, the one that stands out the most is the showdown between Cassie and Al Monroe at the bachelor party. Clearly, Fennell understands the power of nuance, and can communicate that throughout the film. Screenplays need writers who care, and films need directors who care. And Fennell inarguably cares about how each scene is executed and the characters therein.

Representation vs reality. There is a grand discussion topic; one that is core to film studies. In fact, just today, I was lecturing to my film studies students at the University of Tampa on representation vs reality. Whether or not the subjects on screen (people, places, things) exist within our reality, they are certainly representative of that which is real. And Fennell certainly leans heavily into representation of her version of reality. Unfortunately, in her warped version of reality, no one is written with an ability to acknowledge or take responsibility for past/current sins and then CHANGE, to experience a redemption arc. Instead, our central character of Cassie is written as a narcissistic, self-righteous young woman that goes through life as judge, jury, and executioner; she is prohibited from changing her worldview; likewise, the character of Ryan is prohibited from changing for the better, and is viewed through the lens of his reckless youth.

Most individuals, male or female, from Cassie’s past, are depicted as exhibiting deplorable behavior. The men of Promising Young Woman are especially depicted as reprehensible people. Even the likable character of Ryan, who is supposed to represent the actual “good guy” is sent to the metaphoric gallows for his past, despite the fact that he had demonstrably changed since college and had healthy, genuine romantic feelings for Cassie. The fact of the matter is, observational and statistical evidence shows that most men are NOT like the ones at the bar or in that video footage of the shameful, contemptible, disgusting sexual assault in college. Yes, some are, and they need to be held accountable for their egregious actions by law enforcement. And the leadership at universities needs to be held accountable for covering up these sexual assault crimes. Where the film excels is confronting both the dean of the college and the lawyer that protected Al Monroe from prosecution; these scenes are particularly powerful and provide commentary on a real problem that needs to be dealt with. Even the showdown between Cassie and Monroe provides thoughtful content to discuss and provide a wakeup call for those that engage in sexually criminal behavior as college students. Furthermore, the film does a brilliant job at exploring just how those that commit “drunken” sexual assault can rationalize why they aren’t actually responsible for their actions. Terrifying, but true.

The films does the characters of Cassie and Ryan a gross disservice. We’ll start with Ryan. While he was certainly complacent in the sexual assault against Nina, and should be confronted, he changed since his college days. He should’ve been given the opportunity to acknowledge his past, and demonstrate how he has experienced a personal redemption arc. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still consequences, but people CAN change. He could’ve also been an example of the fact that there are actual good guys out there. This would’ve shown Cassie that she cannot assume that all men are despicable, despite the narrative she has experienced; thus acknowledging the error in judgement of her worldview. She isn’t without blemishes on her own record either; therefore, she cannot personally go around condemning all those she deems unworthy of forgiveness. Ryan is a relatable character because he is the most human out of all of them. He isn’t perfect, and he certainly doesn’t pretend to be. He has made mistakes, just like all of us. Granted, his mistake in being complacent during and after the sexual assault he was witness was a terrible one; but he certainly changed in the years following the tragic crime.

And now for Cassie. When we refuse to forgive someone that has wronged us (whether that wrong is mostly harmless or criminally abominable), it’s important to forgive as to not become a prisoner of our mind. Now, forgiveness does NOT mean forgetting, nor does it mean that everything is as it was before. Trust is still broken, lives are still lost, trauma is still experienced. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison; it’s like constructing a personal prison because it’s a toxic mindset that still allows the wrong-doer to have power over the life of the individual that was wronged. To the film’s credit, this toxic behavior is depicted quite well in the character of Cassie, as her refusal to forgive, to release herself from the prison of her mind, ultimately leads to her destruction. Much like the plot does not allow Ryan to be forgiven after his demonstrable change, the film also does a disservice to its central character, because Cassie never changes. There is a glimmer of change, but is quickly shattered. In this film, there were great teachable opportunities (1) to illustrate that there are good guys out there even if their past isn’t spotless (2) that Cassie’s lack of forgiveness is toxic, and prevents her from experiencing a healthy mind and spirit and (3) Ryan could’ve acknowledged and dealt with the idea that complacency contributes to the larger institutional problem of sexual assault in college. This film paints a portrait that change and redemption are impossible concepts.

For all the promise that this film had for a comprehensive approach to teen and college sexual assault, and the cover-up thereof, it fails to provide any avenues for redemption, which hinders the narrative from having the emotional impact it should’ve had. It ultimately falls victim to its own narcissistic self-righteous central character in a revenge plot that leaves no room for redemption. But, this film is a great exercise in the emotional and psychological affects that the lack of forgiveness has upon the mind and soul that ultimately leads to a toxic self-prison.

Ryan teaches screenwriting and film studies at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in Tampa or Orlando, feel free to catch a movie with or meet him in the theme parks!

Follow him on Twitter: RLTerry1