Promising Young Woman

Review: “Promising Young Woman”

Year: 2020

Runtime: 113 minutes

Writer/Director: Emerald Fennell
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Alison Brie, Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown, Alfred Molina, Connie Britton, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield

By Morgan Roberts

The review contains references to assault and suicide.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. “Promising Young Woman” follows Cassie, (Carey Mulligan), a young woman seeking vengeance against those who wronged her best friend. At first, her targets are vague. She pretends to be too drunk to stand or have good judgment. Then when the “Nice Guy” from the bar takes her home, she shows her true colors. Soon, her sights are set less on the patriarchy as a whole and more with the individuals associated with the demise of her best friend.

“Promising Young Woman” might be the best film you see this year. I know it’s my favorite. The plot of the film has elements of familiarity and some of the most jarring twists and turns I have seen in quite some time. The less you know about the overarching plot, the better. But, what I do think is important to note is one of the main themes of the film: revenge after trauma. This isn’t a new topic. Films like “The Brave One” (2007) and “Destroyer” (2018) are just a few examples. The ABC show “Revenge” was a four seasons long vengeance venture. Yet, what makes “Promising Young Woman” so different is how the target of Cassie’s pain shifts from unsuspecting self-proclaimed good-guys to people directly involved in the trauma itself. 

Promising Young Woman
Photo Credit: Focus Features

As a cisgender woman who went to university in the United States, I was keenly aware of the statistics of the number of women assaulted every year on US campuses. The stories are in abundance. The cover-ups and excuses for the assailants are too. “Promising Young Woman” puts that in the forefront. How women must shoulder their own assaults virtually alone and how sometimes the people who survive them are passed the baton. “Promising Young Woman” comes out shortly after the death of Melinda Coleman, whose daughter, Daisy, was the subject of the documentary film “Daisy & Audrie” (2016). The documentary discussed the assaults of Daisy Coleman and Audrie Pott. Pott died by suicide the same year of her assault. Coleman experienced extreme harassment following her assault and died by suicide in the summer of 2020. What was the fate that befell Cassie’s best friend, Nina? The journey does not matter. Just the ripple effect of the pain remains, and that’s where we find Cassie from frame one onward. 

“Promising Young Woman” is endlessly mesmerizing, stunning, and jaw-dropping. Mulligan gives an award-worthy performance.

“Promising Young Woman” isn’t all doom and gloom. It does not solely focus on Cassie’s journey of revenge but her attempts to break herself out of that cycle. The push and pull between loyalty to her friend and loyalty to her own future is fascinating. You cannot help but root for Cassie and much of that can be attributed to Mulligan’s performance. Mulligan lets Cassie be emotionally belligerent and extremely calculated all at the same time. Mulligan really leans into Cassie’s intelligence, her charm, and how truly stunted she is. She is captivating from the first moment she is on screen and you cannot look away. When someone as dynamic as Mulligan is on screen, it would feel difficult to outdo oneself every time, but she manages to do just that again and again. With “Promising Young Woman,” Mulligan embodies all of the messy glory of women: our inherited pain, our survival skills, and our loyalty to one another. It is a tour-de-force performance that will leave your jaw on the floor.

Mulligan so perfectly executes writer/director Emerald Fennell’s vision. Fennell is an extremely intentioned filmmaker. In the first watch of the film, there is no way to predict where Fennell plans to take you. But upon a rewatch, you see how every piece, every moment fits together so perfectly. This is Fennell’s feature film debut, and frankly, this feminist vengeance anthem is a true masterpiece. I cannot wait to see what Fennell conconcts next. What was truly impressive in her direction was how she used her supporting cast. Just look at Mulligan’s filmography, you know what she is capable of. So how do you let your supporting characters shine in their intended purposes? Well, take a page out of Fennell’s book.

Promising Young Woman
Photo Credit: Focus Features

Fennell has an impressive supporting cast and she knew exactly what to do with them. From Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown as Cassie’s worried but minimally confrontational parents, to Bo Burnham as cute pediatric surgeon Ryan; Laverne Cox as deliciously blunt and witty Gail, Cassie’s boss; and Alison Brie as former classmate Madison who demonstrates how insidious internalized misogyny can be. Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell, Alfred Molina, and Connie Britton all show up for impressive performances. Fennell brought the best out in all of her actors and there’s not a misplaced performance in the whole film.

“Promising Young Woman” is endlessly mesmerizing, stunning, and jaw-dropping. Mulligan gives an award-worthy performance. Fennell’s script and direction paint a familiar and unsettling narrative. I know that some people are going to have a hard time with this film. It is the personification of female rage. And rage is an emotion women can have inflicted upon them but are shamed for ever feeling it.  At the end of the day, that is what makes this film so powerful. It is unabashedly and unapologetically filled with rage, and there is nothing more compelling and irresistible than that.

“Promising Young Woman” is in U.S. theaters Dec. 25th.

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