From the opening scene on, the brilliance of Promising Young Woman is how it carefully builds up your trust and subverts your expectations, quite like the methodology of undetected men preying upon women at their most vulnerable moments. You may think you know what’s going on or what sinister intentions the film could be building up to, but you’ll likely be wrong.
Cassandra Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan) lives two lives. By day, she lives an aggressively routined lifestyle. She works purposelessly at a local coffee shop. Still, at night her tortured demons of the past are fully unraveled in this Me-Too-era vigilante tale. Her plagued trauma experienced at Medical School led to her dropping out, matching her voracious desire to seek revenge. She tricks men into taking her seemingly drunken self back to their humble safety nets to deceivingly set up her own well-laid trap.
Watching Cassandra reveal her true intentions to men leaves the viewer uncomfortable given the subject matter, but it’s a necessary discomfort that works given the cathartic nature without ever feeling pandering. Cassandra’s ultimate goal is to expose the seemingly “good guy” persona in how we’re all actually swimming in a misogynistic rape culture. Self-indulgence is promoted and glamorized in our culture, corrupting even the best of the men, and the film does an excellent job in exhibiting that. It’s a compellingly menacing and provoking piece of commentary that contributes to it being such an engrossing motion picture.
Cassandra’s redundant yet twisted lifestyle takes a detour when her life is intruded by a familiar figure of her past played by Bo Burnham. Thanks again to its well-calibrated tone, the movie readjusts its worldview by inserting another seemingly good guy who will sweep Cassandra off her feet and allow her to heal. A romance so winning and powerful that it has a montage sequence set inside a bodega set to Paris Hilton’s Love is Blind.
Carey Mulligan’s performance delivers a powerhouse of pain and conflict. The demons of her past may have wounded her, but they also leave her hungry for righteous justice. She is capable of being delicate, sweet, serious, darkly funny, yet absolutely terrifying. It’s a breathtaking performance filled with brash deliveries and complex nuances that captures her grief in full throttle.
Promising Young Woman is defined by the film’s singular voice. Emerald Fennell is fed up with the half-hazard defenses fervently discussed in issues like rape and sexual assault. Commonalities like “I’m a nice guy” or “we’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt” are rightly mocked, as Fennell imposes a unique revenge tale with a blackly funny tonal blend that dares to disarm. The men in this movie are uniformly diabolical no matter their innocence, and Fennell uses men’s moral weaknesses to her protagonist’s advantage.
The script comes to life through the inspired casting choices. Many of the MVPs from your favorite shows in movies show up in sleight, but essential parts. They deliver lines that could potentially ring clunky or flat, but are delivered with satisfying naturalism. The improvisation style helps the narrative flow while enhances dialogue’s bitting snap from the page.
The production design and cinematography are exceedingly unique on a technical level for a debut feature, with its ultra-saturated colors, stylized camera movements, and even the furniture choices imparting a dreamlike aesthetic. The visceral aesthetics contrast brilliantly with the nightmarish world Cassandra is living in. It brings clarity to Cassandra’s distorted point of view, and the inspired music choices only bring you closer to this twisted landscape.
Promising Young Woman hits an undeniable tonal sweet spot when handling a tricky subject matter. In Emerald Fennell’s confident hands, it’s sure to be one of the most talked-about movies of the year. It’s an exhilarating and discomforting immersion in depicting a complicated truth inside our patriarchal society. With a complete banger of an ending that’s sure to polarize, audiences are sure to discuss Fennell’s offering for years to come.