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  • Writer's pictureSarah McDonald

Pop Culture Check-in: Episode 1

Updated: Jan 24, 2021

What I'm watching: Promising Young Woman

Directed by: Emerald Fennell (best known for show running the second season of Killing Eve)

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Jennifer Coolidge, Alison Brie and Laverne Cox

Run time: 1 hour and 53 minutes

Date released: December 25, 2020

Where to watch: On demand

30-second summary:

Promising Young Woman follows Cassandra, a med school drop out who is working at a coffee shop owned by Gail played Laverne Cox (wildly underused in this movie) and struggling to come to terms with a traumatic sexual assault that happened to her best friend Nina. As a way to cope with her trauma, Cassie's new hobby is to go to a bar, pretend to be drunk, have a guy take her home and then confront him for trying to take advantage of a drunk woman.

Why I think you should watch it:

This movie packs a punch! If you like movies that are satirical and dark, this one is for you. On the outside Promising Young Woman is glossy, neon and candy coated but on the inside it dives into some seriously important issues about how women are seen in our culture, especially those who come forward with experiences of sexual assault. As we watch Cassie play out her "revenge" on guy after guy (notably Seth Cohen and McLovin) what we are actually witnessing is her journey to deal with the difficult emotional fallout of watching her best friend navigate a violent sexual assault and then be completely discounted by everyone she turns to while looking for justice. This includes Connie Britton who gets one of the most nail biting scenes of the movie IMO. Carey Mulligan is utterly captivating and plays this role perfectly. The director explains that Cassie has become addicted to seeking revenge for Nina and Mulligan portrays that cycle of addiction brilliantly. This film adds a new, fresh perspective to the wider conversation of rape culture and I think it's a must watch for anyone. Let me know if you end up checking this one out because I would LOVE to chat about that ending.

What you should watch next:

  • Killing Eve - This one is a total no brainer since the director of Promising Young Woman brought us season two of Killing Eve, a dark and acidic female centered spy show starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.

  • Midsommar - If you liked the colourful aesthetic of Promising Young Woman mixed with the dark subject matter, you have to check out Midsommar. This movie also packs a wallop and has one of the most satisfying endings. Florence Pugh stars in Midsommar and is just as mesmerizing as Mulligan.

  • I May Destroy You - Full disclosure: I haven't watched this HBO dramedy but while reading reviews of Promising Young Woman this show is constantly referenced as having a number of similarities. It's now on my to-watch list.


What I'm reading: How to Pronounce Knife

Written by: Souvankham Thammavongsa

Date published: April 7, 2020

Published by: Pengiun Random House

Book awards: Winner of the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Where you can find it: Anywhere that you buy books or check out your local library

30-second summary:

How to Pronounce Knife is a Canadian collection of short stories about the immigrant experience, particularly from the perspective of Lao immigrants and refugees. The stories in this collection are tender and vulnerable while at the same time making some bold statements about race, class, gender and privilege.

Why I think you should read it:

As a white reader, this collection of short stories is incredibly illuminating as it highlights a lot of aspects of the immigrant experience that I don't take the time to learn about or consider often enough. There's a particular story where an immigrant father takes his young boys trick or treating (or as they pronounce it"chick-a-chee!"). The father takes his boys to a more affluent neighborhood where they will receive better quality candy from nicer homes than the ones in their neighborhood. The unsurprising implication here is that immigrant families are often relegated to less prosperous neighborhoods. How to Pronounce Knife never comes across as judgmental or preachy but it did help to illustrate an experience beyond my own.

What you should read next:

  • The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen - These are both collections of short stories that explore the immigrant experience of living in a predominantly white culture. They also both explore universal themes like longing and desire.

  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko - If you don't like short fiction then give The Leavers a try. This novel is about a young Chinese boy who loses his mother and is adopted by two white college professors. Both of these books explore assimilation and what it's like to live in a community that looks much different from the one we know.

  • Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King - In this collection of personal reflections, Thomas King explores what it means to be "Indian" in North America. This isn't an immigrant story, as we are living on stolen Indigenous land, but there are many parallels between these two experiences and as a white person living on this land I should take the time to understand what implications exist for people that are relegated to "other". My friend Meagan says this book should be required reading for all Canadians.


What I'm listening to: Lullabies for Little Criminals (audiobook)

Written by: Heather O'Neill

Date published: October 2006

Published by: Harper Perennial

Book awards: Winner of 2007 Canada Reads, Winner of the 2007 Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction

Where you can find it: Anywhere that you buy books or on Hoopla Digital through your local library

30-second summary:

This debut novel follows 12-year-old Baby who is trying to navigate life in Montreal with her negligent heroine addicted father Jules while she is surrounded by pimps, sex workers and drug addicts.

Why I think you should read it:

Lullabies for Little Criminals is one of my favourite books of all time. I first read this novel when it was released in 2006 and it has left a searing imprint on me ever since. I have gushed about and given away countless copies of Lullabies since reading it a decade and a half ago. We recently chose this novel for our library's monthly virtual book club (you can watch me talk about it here with my coworker Luke) and I was reminded why this book has had such an incredible impact on me. Baby is one of my favourite fictional characters of all time. O'Neill masterfully writes about Baby's often heartbreaking experiences in such an earnest, sincere and hopeful way. The novel explores poverty, addiction, sex and violence but there is never any judgment in the way that O'Neill explores these topics. Much like How to Pronounce Knife, Lullabies for Little Criminals helps us to understand an experience that is, if we are lucky, unlike our own.

What you should read next:

  • From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle - This memoir explores what it's like to grow up in Canada as a Metis boy. Similarly to Lullabies for Little Criminals, From the Ashes centres around a child who has been abandoned by his parents due to heartbreaking circumstances. This moving account explores addiction, poverty and homelessness.

  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart - This debut novel set in Glasglow is a coming of age story that follows a young boy whose mother is struggling with alcoholism. It has the same grit and heart wrenching moments as Lullabies for Little Criminals.

  • A complicated kindness by Miriam Toews - I would recommend you read anything and everything by Miriam Toews. This is a beautiful coming of age novel about a young girl growing up in a fundamentalist Christian community.


What I'm snacking on: Lindor Chocolates

At Christmas my mom gave us a massive bag of Lindor chocolates and I have been obsessed with them ever since. I have to limit myself to two a night or I will consume the entire bag in one go and I'm not exaggerating when I say that I low-key look forward to those chocolates all day.

Special shout out flavors: Did you know they make gingerbread and pistachio flavored chocolates!? Well they do and they are delicious! I think they must be seasonal flavors because I have tried to order more and they are not available. Until next Christmas, gingerbread!

Let me know in the comments below what you are currently watching, reading, listening to or just generally obsessed with at the moment.


xox Sarah

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