Tag Archives: Emerald Fennell

The Man Who Craves More


by Hope Madden

Somewhere on the other side of Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers lurks Emerald Fennell’s bacchanal, Saltburn.

Oliver (Barry Keoghan), a loner attending Oxford on scholarship, is befriended by the most beautiful, richest of the rich, Felix (Jacob Elordi, so good earlier this year in Priscilla). They become such good friends at school that Felix invites Ollie home to Saltburn, his family’s honest to God castle, for summer break.

A tale of casual cruelty versus calculated cruelty, Saltburn flirts with any number of have-nots in a have land stories: Rebecca, The Little Stranger, and most evidently, The Talented Mr. Ripley. That doesn’t mean the Oscar winner who penned Promising Young Woman lacks an original thought on the matter.

Fennell’s film is a seduction, sensuality dripping from every frame, every image – the interiors, the grounds, the bodies. On display is unimaginable wealth, and the fantasy of decadence and isolation that accompanies it. Felix’s family is drawn to Ollie like vampires to human flesh and blood. That they will tire of him is inevitable, and that he will do terrible things to remain in their graces is also inevitable. But that’s not truly the story.

And even if you have a clear sense of the direction the story will take, the tension will break you.

Not everything works in Fennell’s film, but man, Keoghan does. No one plays the vulnerable, potentially dangerous outsider quite as he does. Elordi is tender and lovely in an appropriately superficial way, and Gran Turismo’s Archie Madekwe nails the insecure wealthy-by-technicality cousin with ease.

The image of vacuous wealth becomes cartoonish, however wonderful Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike are as Felix’s wildly oblivious, inhumanly privileged parents.

It’s tough to watch a film that asks you to empathize with, much less pity, the grotesquely wealthy. Luckily, Fennell doesn’t. Her effort is far more cynical, finding obscene wealth and the desire for obscene wealth equally unappealing, if not equally villainous.

The filmmaker loses her way before she gets to the magnificent final dance scene. We relive clues and take a hard turn that feels too genre for what had been a glorious mess. In the end, Saltburn often feels like a story you’ve seen before, told with more style and meanness. But style and meanness count for something, and this cast understands that.

Bad Boys for Life

Promising Young Woman

by Hope Madden

Emerald Fennell keeps you guessing.

In a riotous and incredibly assured feature debut as writer and director, she twists both knife and expectations in a rape-revenge riff that’s relevant, smart and surprisingly hilarious.

If you like your humor dark.

Carey Mulligan is flawless—when is she not?—as Cassandra. By day the one-time med student ignores customers from behind a coffee house counter. By night, she pretends to be obliterated in local clubs and dive bars.

Why would she do that? Well honestly, it’s because Cassandra’s life has lost its purpose and this is to a great degree the drug that numbs her. These opportunities to puncture the moral delusions of self-proclaimed “nice guys” who take her home provide catharsis. It’s like her own version of purgatory, as she forever tries to make amends for that one night back in med school.

And these moments are priceless as, one by one, Fennell exposes the hideous reality of gender norms and how little it takes for a man to be considered a good dude.

Mulligan is marvelous, giving Cassie the courage that comes from an utter disinterest in the opinions or well-being of others. And then a good guy from med school (Bo Burnham) stops in for coffee (in one of Mulligan’s finest, funniest scenes) and the stakes get higher.

Maybe she has a shot at turning the tables on those she considers responsible for this pain. Or maybe she’s found her one chance to put this pain behind her.

It’s a tightly wound script populated by spot on performances. Fennell has a gift for casting small roles with actors who can find the absurd humor and realistic horror of every situation: Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown, Adam Brody, Laverne Cox, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. But the cherry on this sundae is Burnham, who is quietly magnificent.

A pessimism runs through Fennell’s film that’s hard to ignore and even harder to criticize. But the film is true to the character of Cassie—a woman who’s profoundly dark and unforgiving but not wrong.

Fennell’s film is not a nuanced drama concerning rape culture. It’s not telling us anything we don’t honestly know already. It’s not a scalpel to the brain, it’s a sledge hammer to the testicles.

And why not?