Alright! This brings us halfway through this years’ list of Best Picture nominees. And I think this pair of films has another common theme – “don’t trust the trailer”.
Sound Of Metal
So, I knew what this was “about”, I thought. Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a drummer for the thrash-metal band he’s in with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) who is suddenly forced to contend with sudden-onset and near-total hearing loss. Now – you kind of think you know what you’re going to get with a descriptor like that, yeah? Lots of music, lots of performance scenes, some melodramatic “omigod I can’t hear you!” conversations, a montage of “adapting to being deaf”, maybe a miraculous recovery or some other triumphant ending.
Yeah, almost none of that is in here.
Instead, it’s a surprisingly poignant story about love, different kinds of loss, and making peace with one’s fate. Ruben and Lou aren’t just a couple and they aren’t just a rock band – Ruben is a recovering addict and Lou has been his sponsor, and that “adapting to being deaf” montage is at a halfway house for deaf addicts she finds him. Joe, the head of the facility, quickly senses that Ruben’s been living on high speed up to this point and is likely struggling to cope with way more than just deafness, and gently leads him to not only accept his hearing loss, but also to find a way to serve society – and also to simply calm down a little.
The film’s sound design also got a nomination, and for good reason. A lot of the sound is from Ruben’s own perspective – the muffled early stages, the weird echoey silence he sits in his first night at the halfway house and watches everyone else talking in ASL, the distorted cacophony as he tries a couple of mechanical solutions that don’t quite work as well as he hopes. Most poignant of all is the first exam from an audiologist, who reads him a list of words and asks him to repeat them; we hear things from Ruben’s side first, feeling confident when he hears anything and repeats the word back. But then we switch to the audiologist’s perspective and realize Ruben’s missing a lot of words. This was a surprisingly quiet film – in the emotional sense.
Promising Young Woman
Another film, another twist from what the trailer lead me to believe. Carey Mulligan is Cassie, a med school dropout who still lives with her parents – and spending her nights dressing to the nines, going out to clubs and pretending to be drunk, luring ill-intentioned guys to bringing her home and attempting to have sex with her – only for her to spring the trap by revealing her sobriety and lecturing them, leaving them embarrassed and in fear of later retaliation. We pick up fairly early on that something like this probably happened either to her or to a good friend in med school, and was the cause of her dropping out.
But the trailer implies that’s pretty much all there is to her story – a dark-comedy revenge fantasy where she exposes a series of creeps and maybe ultimately brings down the Dean of the school she went to. Something like that. But the plot gets much more personal; Cassie does continue her campaign of revenge, but a chance meeting with former classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham) inspires her to redirect her campaign against the specific people involved in her friend Nina’s assault case – the dean who brushed the complaint aside, the defense lawyer who got the assailant off, the girl who gossiped about how her friend was a “slut” who was “asking for it”. At the same time, though, Ryan also inspires her to move on from the revenge game, when they start falling for each other; he’s a sweet doofus who shares Cassie’s acerbic sense of humor, and their flirting is so fun it even made ol’ cynical me grin. And yet, Ryan was friends with Nina’s attacker, and may know more about things than he’s letting on.
On the whole, this is a much more complex and nuanced story than the trailer would lead you to believe.
I also got a kick out of the film’s shout-outs to Night Of The Hunter – there’s a moment where Cassie’s parents are watching it online, and we’re treated to a quick clip of Robert Mitchum talking about women as temptresses, and later, when Cassie has received a severe shock, the soundtrack borrows the eerie song “The Pretty Fly“. Both clips work perfectly.