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Variety critic defends 'Promising Young Woman' review amid Carey Mulligan controversy

Tom Beasley
·Contributor
·3-min read

Watch: Mulligan says she’s angry about Variety review

Film critic Dennis Harvey has defended his review of Promising Young Woman, saying he was “appalled to be tarred as misogynist” when Carey Mulligan drew attention to his critique in an interview.

Harvey has been a film critic for 30 years, but trade publication Variety is facing calls from some on social media to sack him in the wake of the row.

In the movie, Mulligan plays a woman who pretends to be drunk in bars in order to skewer supposed “nice guys” who try to take advantage of her.

Read more: Most exciting original movies of 2021

Harvey has received criticism for his broadly positive review of the film from the Sundance Film Festival last year, which appeared to comment on Mulligan’s appearance.

He wrote: “Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale — Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her. Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.”

'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Focus Features/Universal)
'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Focus Features/Universal)

Mulligan referenced the review in a New York Times interview, in which she commented on beauty standards for women in Hollywood.

Variety has since added an editor’s note above the piece, apologising for “insensitive language and insinuation” in the review.

Read more: Mulligan says film sets are difficult for mothers

Harvey has now told The Guardian that he was “appalled” to be called a misogynist in the wake of the piece going viral, as such thinking is “very alien to [his] personal beliefs or politics”.

He said: “I did not say or even mean to imply Mulligan is ‘not hot enough’ for the role.

“I’m a 60-year-old gay man. I don’t actually go around dwelling on the comparative hotnesses of young actresses, let alone writing about that.”

Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features/Universal)
Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features/Universal)

Harvey denied that his evocation of Robbie was an attempt to compare the personal appearance of the two actors, rather that casting either instead of the other would raise a different set of expectations in the audience.

He admitted that he could’ve expressed the point better, but was concerned about revealing too much of the movie’s plot.

Read more: Mulligan worried she had killed Ralph Fiennes on movie set

The critic added: “I assumed that film-makers who created such a complex, layered movie wouldn’t interpret what I wrote as some kind of simple-minded sexism.

“And while Carey Mulligan is certainly entitled to interpret the review however she likes, her projection of it suggesting she’s ‘not hot enough’ is, to me, just bizarre.

“I’m sorry she feels that way. But I’m also sorry that’s a conclusion she would jump to, because it’s quite a leap.”

Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in 'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features/Universal)
Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in 'Promising Young Woman'. (Credit: Merie Weismiller Wallace/Focus Features/Universal)

Promising Young Woman is attracting Oscar buzz for Mulligan, who looks set to join the crowded field of Best Actress hopefuls.

The cast of the film also includes Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Max Greenfield and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Read more: 2021 Oscars ceremony will be an in-person event

It has attracted considerable acclaim from critics over the course of its release and currently boasts a 91% approval score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Promising Young Woman was released on VOD in the United States in late 2020, and is still awaiting a release date in the UK.

Watch: Trailer for Promising Young Woman