Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Observe and Report; White House Down and Olympus has fallen; Antz and A Bug’s life; my personal favorite, Christine (2016) and Kate plays Christine. Movies released almost back-to-back, and are either very similar or literally about the same thing; the discussion in such instances has always been centered around which movie “won” and if the “looser” was unfairly treated, or (in the case of Antz) one company “copying” the other and trying to steal their thunder. The latest one – although admittedly less solid than the previous examples – is Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman (PYW) and J Blakeson’s I care a lot (ICAL). While story and characters are pretty much separate, as a fan of both movies, I saw some obvious similarities between the two, however both movies had a distinct take on them, which is what I want to examine in this article; this will include visuals, audio, and specific story beats/themes, and lots of spoilers!
I want to start with audio and specifically the music style chosen for both projects; ICAL’s choice is the easiest to explain, so I’ll start with that. Basically, it’s a synth soundtrack; it works fine for the movie, and it has some great moments when the visuals also allude to 80s nostalgia. However, it is remarkably off-topic when it comes to the rest of the movie; Marla is a “modern” woman with a vape thingy, happily gay, and there isn’t anything else in particular about the movie that necessitates an 80s nostalgia, besides the occasional colorful gym attire and flip phone cameo. Comparing that to PYW’s musical choices, it is also a fairly lazy and safe choice. PYW is trashy-pop (which isn’t a criticism by the way) and I freaking loved every time the movie called attention to its score; from the chilling rendition of Toxic from Anthony Willis to Charlie XCX, and even an actual hit of nostalgia with freaking “Stars are blind” from Paris Hilton, this is trash-pop heaven and I love it. They work extraordinarily well with the movie’s candy-girl vibes, but in particular they work as a way to creep you out (seriously Toxic is painfully good) and lure you into the mind (and mental state) of Cassie.
The obvious similarity between the two movies has to be the visual style that emphasizes color and a playful attitude, over any other stylization. PYW’s style, as I said in the audio section, is trash-pop and visually that translates to candy-girl style of rainbows and strong primary colors; that fits with Cassie’s vibe, but I noticed something as I was watching the movie for the second time. Day time scenes don’t just look washed out – especially day time in Cassie’s house – they look unnatural in a way that is painful, which makes night scenes almost a refuge from that oversaturation of daylight; to me, that is an extension of Cassie’s broken psyche preferring to hide in the night lights and make up, over dealing with her parents, her stagnating life, and unresolved trauma while the sun is out. That is probably me reading too much into stuff, but I still love that the visual style of PYW is more than just a “weird and different” take on what we’ve come to expect from similar movies. ICAL, similarly, can be easily described and criticized for the 80s nostalgia aspects, but I feel like that is leading with a misstep when covering a successful marathon; it’s obviously something worth mentioning and it is a highlight, but most of it works brilliantly. A potent highlight for me is how Marla is “designed” and how her style tells us all we need to know about her as a person. She is meticulously clean and efficient in her outfit and presentation; her hair is inch perfect, her make up is set up to highlight her best features, her suits show a stylish yet efficient businesswoman. All you need to know about her cunning, scheming, and fallaciously caring personality is understood by the contrast of her persona in public places or in front of the judge, and in her private moments. Speaking of which, the moments she has with Fran (her lover and business partner) are an interesting contrast to that image; she will often tie her hair back, vape more often, be openly ambitious and ruthless, dress more casually, and be more herself, rather than smiling all the time and being “perfect”. Neither of these examples are extra-ordinary, but they also don’t need to be because of how well they work within both movies and in relation to the characters respectively.
Moreover, there is an interesting occurrence when it comes to a specific theme and how each of the movie deals with it; how is the role of men represented in these female centered movies. ICAL, written and directed by a man, is surprisingly mean spirited towards men; Marla will often cite the gender of her contradictors, she will explicitly state how her being a woman scares men; beyond Marla, every guy in this movie has a mean spirited side to them, like Roman (Peter Dinklage) who wants his mother back from Marla’s crutches, but is also a cold-hearted prick who just cares about money, or Sam Rice who runs the clinic Marla uses for her scams and actively does not care for any of his patients. These are just a few examples, but this isn’t to say that the movie has an agenda – quite the opposite is true, since every character regardless of their identity or race has a mean side to them or they are insignificant to the story – however, Marla specifically hating men gets mentioned by name and it ultimately is true and it also comes back to bite her (since the man who we see berating her in the beginning, is the one who kills her at the end). My suspicion is that the gender call out was probably a red hearing, as the actual point of the man shooting her at the end has nothing to do with Marla’s gender, but the fact that she got cocky and worried for more imminent dangers, neglecting that she sucks elder people’s savings until they are dead which would make their living descendants very upset with her.
PYW on the other hand, has a very different execution on a surprisingly similar concept; long story short, although ICAL and PYW could be seen as having an agenda against men, you would have to skip over a lot of stuff and focus in on very specific things to genuinely believe PYW is actually targeting men. Cassie is more of a sociopath than Marla, but her actions aren’t cheeky and are not presented as such; she will pretend to be drunk and lure men to her with a care-free attitude, just to see what they will do and catch them red handed. Obviously, that’s a fucked up thing to do on both sides but, Cassie takes it one step further with later targets, and (excluding the end) saves her worst for the two female targets; for all intents and purposes, Cassie is just as spiteful of women as she is of men, and the movie’s themes and targets are not as clearly shared by Cassie.
Lastly, as the last point might have made you guess, both movies are filled to the brim with antagonistic or purposefully unlikeable characters, but the ways they use them are quite different. ICAL only hints at what happened before the events of the movie and lets the current and future dynamics of its story and characters – alongside their relationships with each other – to do the heavy lifting of making those characters interesting enough to keep the audience engaged; it is also (out of these two movies) the one with the most effort and clear intention of having comedy in the movie. Alternatively, PYW makes finding out what happened before the events of the movie, who was involved and in what way, a major focus of the movie, and how all the characters involved have dealt with it; all characters are assholes for the most part, but the way it shows that is partly the reason why the audience is invested in them and engages with fundamentally different questions. In ICAL you’ll think “wow you suck, but this is so entertaining to watch and I can’t wait to see how you get your comeuppance”, while PYW gets you to say “huh, so this is how it feels like to hear this excuse, while still keeping the person saying it somewhat empathetic or morally gray”. These are two casts of characters that are fundamentally the same, yet they are used for such different causes, you may struggle to see the similarities.
So, why did I do this whole comparison behemoth and what did I learn? I did it because this is my idea of fun and because that is something that interests me; I learned nothing, because I’m pretty sure I’m not an expert at anything yet, but I do think that I have some strong points here and (although a bit bias) I generally tend to agree with what I think and find it very interesting and insightful. Also, I looked up Emerald Fennell’s Twitter page at one point while researching this and she definitely deserves a follow, so do that.