Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan has begun to publicly air grievances with Variety film critic Dennis Harvey over his review of her newest film, Promising Young Woman. Mulligan has accused Harvey, a gay man with 30 years of experience in writing film criticism, of sexist attitudes. Harvey, for his part, has accused Mulligan of inciting social media backlash in hopes of scoring an Oscar nomination.
The controversy began with Harvey, 60, publishing his review in Variety, one of Hollywood’s leading trade newspapers, in January 2020 (the film debuted at Sundance last year). On the whole, Harvey praised the film–a satire about a woman taking revenge on misogynistic men–as well as Mulligan’s performance. His one reservation came as a critique of a series of silly disguises worn by Mulligan’s character, which seemed a bit too far-fetched.
“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,” Harvey wrote. “Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.”
Mulligan, upon reading the review, began to bash Harvey publicly for what she referred to as “sexism.”
“It made me concerned that in such a big publication, an actress’ appearance could be criticized and that could be accepted as completely reasonable criticism,” Mulligan said in a subsequent interview. “It stuck with me, because I think it’s these kind of everyday moments that add up – that mean that we start to edit the way that women appear on screen, and we want them to look a certain way.”
Mulligan’s remarks sparked immediate attacks on Harvey on social media. In response, the critic pushed back against Mulligan’s accusations in UK newspaper The Guardian.
“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,” Harvey told the paper. He added he felt “appalled to be tarred as misogynist, which is something very alien to my personal beliefs or politics. This whole thing could not be more horrifying to me than if someone had claimed I was a gung-ho Trump supporter.”
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“What I was attempting to write about was the emphasis in the film and [Mulligan’s] performance on disguise, role-playing and deliberate narrative misdirection. Nor was bringing up Margot Robbie meant to be any comparison in ‘personal appearance,'” he added. “Robbie is a producer on the film, and I mentioned her just to underline how casting contributes to the film’s subversive content – a star associated with a character like Harley Quinn [Robbie’s Suicide Squad character] might raise very specific expectations, but Mulligan is a chameleon and her very stylized performance keeps the viewer uncertain where the story is heading.”
Interestingly enough, producer Margot Robbie herself discussed the very issue of Mulligan’s casting last December. Her remarks would appear to echo Dennis Harvey’s sentiments–that Mulligan’s casting adds to the surprise of the movie.
“I was like, ‘I think I’m who people would expect to be cast in this,'” Robbie told The Hollywood Reporter. “But the most delightful thing about Promising Young Woman is that it takes you by surprise, and I just felt like I wouldn’t be that surprising — me doing these kinds of things with people’s perception of who I am and the characters that I’ve played. Carey Mulligan, however, is an actress that has this air of prestige around her. She’s in period dramas. Throw her in Promising Young Woman, and people’s minds get blown.”
Harvey also took issue with the timing of Mulligan’s grievances, noting she said nothing “until the film was finally being released, promoted and Oscar-campaigned.” He seems to imply that Mulligan is using the “controversy” to generate interest in the film and her performance. He also further stated that the backlash has jeopardized his job with Variety.
“It’s left in question whether after 30 years of writing for Variety I will now be sacked because of review content no one found offensive until it became fodder for a viral trend piece,” Harvey said.
At the time of this writing, Variety has added an “apology” to Mulligan on Harvey’s review of Promising Young Woman. Mulligan has yet to respond to the change.
Bringing up that you’re “gay” doesn’t mean you’re not misogynistic or don’t compare women’s looks. That was a weak ass argument. While bringing up the timing of Mulligan’s complaint was catty. Show some professionalism. Honestly, the explanation made him sound worse and hella whiny. I could see the initial observation being “problematic” from a certain perspective. Really though, it’s the explanation that made him sound much worse. Shoulda just took the L and kept it pushing.
Nah, I think its ridiculous to blame any criticism on sexism. He wasn’t being sexist and if what she was wearing looked like bad drag to him he should be allowed to say it.
I thought the hair and makeup were weird, especially the wigs, but I just assumed they couldn’t afford a good style crew for the movie.
I didn’t perceive the critique as sexist. I can however understand someone seeing it that way if they really wanted to. His response to the criticism is where he f-ed up. Bringing up being “gay” and his age as defenses (as if either of those things have to do with sexism), bringing up the Oscar campaign (pretty much accusing Mulligan of using the review to spark more buzz)- it made him look childish and near-sighted. That response seems to have done him in.
I enjoyed the movie a lot and thought Mulligan came off perfectly like a woman in a long term depression but dealing with it in a different way.
After it was over we kept talking about it. Really worth watching.
Seems like Carey Mulligan is searching for more attention due to the competitive best actress race!
It doesn’t matter what she says or does. The best actress race is between Frances McDormand and Viola Davis. Viola has the edge bc she’s never won a best actress trophy, only a supporting one and Frances has already two best actress trophies under her belt. And there’s the other factor that gives Viola the edge which we all know what it is but can’t say bc it isn’t pc.
Mulligan’s comments left a bad taste in my mouth. When the luminous Michelle Pfeiffer played a waitress in “Frankie and Johnny,” many reviewers commented about how she was an odd choice for the role. But she was fabulous and they acknowledged it. Same with Harvey.
Mulligan is an odd choice for this role and I’m looking forward to seeing it. But Harvey is absolutely right. It’s a role seemingly made for Robbie, but an odd fit for Mulligan. That fact she allegedly hits it out of the park is fantastic and why she’s in the awards conversation. Mulligan’s comments are tone deaf and miss the point, which is odd in that she seems insightful and intelligent in interviews.
I agree and disagree, My issue with Margot Robbie playing the part is that the idea that you have to look like Margot Robbie for random guys to try to take advantage of you is one I don’t agree with. Women of every appearance are assaulted all the time, not just ones that are Hollywood beauty icons.
As for Michelle Pfiefer, when they said she was an odd choice to play the part in Frankie and Johnny, they said she was too attractive and the parts were supposed to be about every day people, I thought on stage Kathy Bates had played the part.. So it’s not surprising her feelings weren’t too hurt by that one. 🙂
Wow, so critiquing performance is now considered an act of prejudice. When did human beings become too sensitive to survive daily life? Mulligan is being an over-sensitive fool.
If David Reddish could pull his nose out of Dennis Harvey’s butt for a minute he might realize this has nothing to do with anyone being gay and everything to do with a backhanded sexist critique that even Variety recognized as inapropriate. If Dennis Harvey wants to continue to be a priemere film critic he should recognize his mistake and move on. That kind of basless low brow critique is more suited to a gay blog where you might find a poorly written defenses of mysogeny hastily dressed up as a gay interest piece because the misogynist is gay
This is one of those times I see no point in attacking Queerty. This “article”, like most of this site’s articles, doesn’t really have an opinion or perspective. It’s just a bunch of quotes and a general rundown of the situation. While this site couldn’t care less about who and what is misogynistic nor really who’s “gay”. It’s just about clicks and comments.
I’m not sure I’d say Harvey’s comment was flat-out misogynistic. It seemed he was just trying to flesh out his review. But by today’s standards it has a level of distaste. Him and his editors should have known better. But as I mentioned, the big problem is how he responded to the controversy. No apology, acknowledgment of how his words could have been misconstrued, bringing up being “gay” and in his sixties (as if either of those things have to do with anything) and being accusatory towards Mulligan. The explanation article made him come off like any random bitchy internet queen, someone who might troll the comment sections here. Not professional at all.
being gay doesnt makes you any less sexist……i have seen gay men who are even more misogynist than straight men
Why is Mulligan an “odd choice”? Because she’s done period pieces?…um she’s an actress.. she’s supposed to take on different roles.
If the variety critic can’t handle any criticism that comes from his pathetic “review”, he should reconsider his career of critiquing others.
I agree with both Dennis and Carey. They’re both right and both wrong. Don’t get in an argument with a woman. You’ll never win even if you win.
She’s another overly entitled SPOLIED Hollywood “actor” !!! Who could be a nobody one day. Just saying .. Her ego is out of control. But that’s par for the course in Hollywood ….
Harvey was being too generous. Mulligan was unwatchable overdoing the “Fatal Attraction” trope.
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