The title of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman might easily apply to its filmmaker as well. In this candy-coated revenge thriller, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) lives life on her own terms. By day, she works as a barista and devising ingenious ways to give abusive young men poetic justice at night. When she runs into an old friend, Ryan (Bo Burnham), Cassie is forced to make serious decisions about how she wants her life to turn out. With a supporting cast that includes Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, and Max Greenfield, Promising Young Woman introduces a filmmaker with a striking new vision. "There’s here’s no denying that Fennell is playing with dynamite here, and knows it,” exclaims The Playlist, adding that Promising Young Woman is “provocative, gleefully subversive, and – if I may – ballsy. More of that in our cinemas this year, please and thank you.”
With Promising Young Woman releasing on demand tomorrow, we are remembering other films that introduced a promising young filmmaker to the world.
EMMA. | Autumn de Wilde
With EMMA., Autumn de Wilde moved from being a rock-and-roll photographer to excelling as a feature film director. Anya Taylor-Joy plays Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen’s plucky heroine who is determined to run the lives of her family and friends. While Emma swears to know what's best for everyone, be it her friend Harriet Smith (Mia Goth) or her own father (Bill Nighy), she appears blind to her own heart’s desires, especially as it concerns Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn). With an artist’s eye, de Wilde translates Austen’s sparking wit into scrumptious visual design and fashion without losing any of the original’s bite. “De Wilde knows that something as simple as a symmetrically framed shot of her characters can serve as a silent punchline,” notes NPR. “Her style is an ideal marriage of visual extravagance and satirical distance.”
Lost in Translation | Sofia Coppola
With Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola demonstrated a visual and poetic flair that has only matured over the years. In dramatizing the accidental friendship between a bored movie star, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), and a young newlywed, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), both staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Coppola created one of the most touching and ephemeral cinematic experiences of all time. Salon announced that Lost In Translation marked Coppola “as one of our most gifted filmmakers (of either gender).” Fans and critics were in awe of this remarkable new cinematic voice. “What’s astonishing about Sofia Coppola’s enthralling new movie,” noted Entertainment Weekly, “is the precision, maturity, and originality with which the confident young writer-director communicates so clearly in a cinematic language all her own.”
Beginners | Mike Mills
For Beginners, writer/director Mill Mills mined his own life to create an entirely original take on love, loss, and talking dogs. As Oliver (Ewan McGregor) awkwardly begins a relationship with Anna (Mélanie Laurent), he reflects back on how his dad, Hal (Christopher Plummer in an Oscar®-winning role), heroically came out of the closet in his seventies. Rather than tell a straightforward love story, Mills creates a lyrical meditation that skips back and forth in time, incorporating graphic design, hand animation, and history lessons in its quest to comprehend its elusive subject. For the Los Angeles Times, “Mills has a way of making ordinary life feel both unique and familiar, and that infuses the film with many small moments to savor.” His confidence and startlingly original vision makes even his flights of whimsy feel magical. As The Washington Post notes, “You know you’re in the hands of a superbly gifted filmmaker when he can pull off a talking dog.”
Pariah | Dee Rees
In Pariah, writer/director Dee Rees captures the complex inner life of Alike (Adepero Oduye), an African American teenager in Brooklyn coming into her own as a woman, poet, and lesbian. As her debut feature, the film announced Rees' own coming out as a new American cinematic voice. “Striding in with hard-won confidence to depict a culture hidden from outsiders,” exclaims Entertainment Weekly, “Rees has made a movie of exceptional, raw honesty.” Taking the coming-of-age and the coming-out genres to a whole different level, Rees forged a real connection with her audience. “In providing teens with a look at one possible route,” explains The Wrap, “Rees also puts herself on the map as a storyteller with a bright future ahead of her.”
Brick | Rian Johnson
Before helming such blockbusters as Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Knives Out, Rian Johnson was a young writer/director struggling to put together his first feature Brick, an audacious hard-boiled thriller set in a Southern California high school. With dialog that would make Dashiell Hammett proud, Joseph Gordon Leavitt plays Brendan Frye, a teen gumshoe who vows to unravel the secrets surrounding the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Working with an unlimited imagination and almost no budget, Johnson created a small miracle. “There’s a real soul to it,” noted the AV Club, “with the crime-fiction elements underlining the everyday perils of getting through high school.” Roger Ebert immediately recognized the filmmaker’s talent, writing, “This movie leaves me looking forward to the director's next film; we can say of Rian Johnson, as somebody once said about a dame named Brigid O'Shaughnessy, 'You're good. You're very good.'"