Did ‘Promising Young Woman’s’ COVID-delayed release date help make it such a promising Oscar player?

Good things come to those who wait. I remember seeing trailers for “Promising Young Woman” early in 2020; after that revenge thriller about getting even with abusive men premiered at the Sundance Film Festival that January, it was originally scheduled for theatrical release in April. But then of course the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US and changed everybody’s movie plans. “Promising” was pushed back to Christmas Day. Now it’s one of the season’s most promising Oscar contenders. Would that have been the case if it had opened in April as originally planned?

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Posted By Vikas Sharma
Those who follow the Oscars closely know how important timing is. Movies released during the spring and summer are often forgotten by the motion picture academy, while movies in the fall and winter typically rule. There are exceptions, of course, like recent Best Picture nominees from February “Get Out” (2017) and “Black Panther” (2018), and March Best Picture nominee “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014), but those had the benefit of huge box office, an established auteur, or both. Your production needs a strong narrative hook to overcome the academy’s long-term memory loss.

“Promising” might have had that even in April, to be fair. Revenge thrillers aren’t typical Oscar bait, but in an alternate universe without COVID it might’ve been a sleeper hit at the box office, and its hotly debated ending could certainly have kept it in the awards conversation. But that sudden jolt it gave the industry when it opened on Christmas probably didn’t hurt when it came to star Carey Mulligan winning Best Actress from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Board of Review shortly thereafter.

Another feminist thriller actually did open in the spring to comparably strong reviews for its story of a woman confronting abuse: “The Invisible Man,” starring Elisabeth Moss as a woman whose abusive ex haunts and terrorizes her. That film doesn’t have as high a profile in the Oscar race, at least not according to the combined predictions of Gold Derby users as of this writing. And it’s a horror film, which are always a tougher sell for the academy (just ask “Hereditary” and “Midsommar“).

But it too has popped up at regional critics’ awards a few times this season, with Moss honored by the Hollywood Critics Association and nominated by the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and critics in Columbus, Denver, Indiana, North Carolina and San Francisco. She and the film also won at the new Critics’ Choice Super Awards for Best Horror Movie and Best Actress in a Horror Movie.

So maybe this means we’re actually underestimating “Invisible Man” in the Oscar race. But if “Promising” really does end up being the stronger choice for the academy, it might illustrate the benefit of making a strong last impression.

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