Critics Pushing Back After Carey Mulligan Says Reviewer Thought She Wasn't 'Hot' Enough For Promising Young Woman

Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is once again in the headlines, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the controversial subject matter of the film. However, the recent drama surrounding the film has little to do with the plot, and is instead shifting to a growing dispute between star Carey Mulligan and a critic who she says didn’t think she was ‘hot’ enough for the role. Recently, the National Society of Film Critics issued a statement defending Dennis Harvey, who penned the controversial review that is the subject of Carey Mulligan’s ire.

In the organization’s statement, the group addresses the editor’s note apology issued by Variety and suggests that there was ample opportunity to work with the critic if the publisher deemed the review insensitive:

We wish to register our alarm at Variety’s shabby treatment of our colleague. If Variety felt the language in Harvey’s review was insensitive and insinuating, it had the option of working with him to fix that in the editing process before it ran, rather than simply capitulating to it and undermining its own critic.

The statement, which was originally posted to the National Society of Film Critics Twitter account, goes on to suggest that the editor's note should be removed from the review, calling the decision "appalling":

We believe the editor’s note should be removed. Like any journalism, film criticism often displeases those being written about. And, like any journalists, film critics must have the support of their publications when that displeasure, usually coming from people far more powerful than any journalist, is made known — especially when that publication claims to report on the industry those powerful people inhabit. It is appalling that, in this instance, Variety chose to side with that power rather than supporting its writer.

Here’s the basic gist of what happened and the events leading up to the statement from the National Society of Film Critics: Dennis Harvey’s review of Promising Young Woman was published at Variety. Later, Carey Mulligan, who plays lead Cassandra Thomas, suggested that Harvey’s review didn’t deem her ‘hot’ enough for the role and that he suggested Margot Robbie, who was a producer on the film, would have been a better choice. She shared her thoughts on the review with the New York Times:

I took issue with it. It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse.

After her response, Variety pinned an editor's note at the top of the review, apologizing for Dennis Harvey’s language:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Variety sincerely apologizes to Carey Mulligan and regrets the insensitive language and insinuation in our review of Promising Young Woman that minimized her daring performance.

Following the editor’s note, Carey Mulligan once again addressed the review on Variety’s Actors on Actors series, where she was asked to expand on her thoughts by Malcom & Marie’s Zendaya.

I feel it’s important that criticism is constructive. I think it’s important that we are looking at the right things when it comes to work, and we’re looking at the art, and we’re looking at the performance and the way that a film is made. And I don’t think that goes to the appearance of an actor or your personal preference for what an actor does or doesn’t look like, which it felt that that article did.

Since Carey Mulligan’s final response, critic Dennis Harvey spoke with The Guardian to share his disappointment and surprise with the Promising Young Woman’s comments:

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.

As you’ve probably already gathered by now, the entire situation has blown up into a completely separate discussion from the film. Despite the drama surrounding the review, Promising Young Woman has been crushing it at awards ceremonies. Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut has already earned a nomination for Best Picture at the Golden Globes, in addition to a nomination for Carey Mulligan in the Best Actress in a Drama category.

While the ongoing dispute only seems to be adding fuel to the awards fire for Promising Young Woman, it looks like neither side plans on backing down any time soon. Those who haven’t seen Carey Mulligan’s impressive performance should check out the film ahead of the awards ceremonies, as it’s currently available on PVOD. Be sure to keep your eyes on Promising Young Woman as awards season starts to heat up. I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard more from Carey Mulligan, especially in regards to this situation, as we get closer to this year’s ceremony.

Braden Roberts

Into tracksuits by Paulie Walnuts, the Criterion Channel and Robert Eggers.