Promising Young Woman, 2020.
Directed by Emerald Fennell.
Starring Adam Brody, Ray Nicholson, Sam Richardson, Carey Mulligan, Timothy E Goodwin, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Ali Hart, Bo Burnham, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Alison Brie and Alfred Molina.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is turning thirty, perpetually single and out every night. Masking her grief through casual encounters and late-night liaisons, her desire to meet the right man has nothing to do with dating.
Some might frame Promising Young Woman as a feminist revenge thriller designed to leave a bitter after taste. Others might claim it to be a visual diatribe on female empowerment, toxic masculinity and the impersonal nature of relationships. Then there will be those commentators who are enraptured by Cary Mulligan’ Cassandra. A hot mess of vengeance, driven by trauma and ultimately tragic in the Greek sense.
What writer director Emerald Fennell has written is a cautionary tale which never gives audiences an out. Cynical, bitter and savagely sarcastic Promising Young Woman is nothing short of revelatory. Shot through with filmic revenge references, it tips a hat to Night of the Hunter as well as drawing on Fellini through production designer Michael T. Perry. Emotional stasis, arrested development and the stark reality of objectification are firmly in focus, as Emerald Fennell spares no one.
Cassie is driven by the need for closure yet never actively seeks it out, blinded by presumption and past events. Living at home amongst teenage mementoes and faded memories she finds solace through emasculation. Stand out victims include an intentionally seedy Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who trades on artistic pretensions and hollow ambitions. However, amongst the numerous late-night revellers and casual misogyny she is thrown a life line.
Bo Burnham’s Ryan is emotionally intact, professionally grounded and appears well intentioned. It is here that the writer director throws the first of many curveballs, as for a brief moment Promising Young Woman delves into rom-com territory. Dialogue, which had been rapier and unrelenting, now takes on a more naturalistic edge. Chemistry between Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham is evident, while the latter proves especially adept at playing an everyman.
Tonally this film proves to be a perfected judged balancing act throughout. Going from the lurid bar room cattle market mentality of modern-day dating, before switching gears and embracing an avenging angel aesthetic. Beyond the preoccupation with gender empowerment Promising Young Woman has much to say about the foibles of youth. Existing in the internet age where social media is a defining part of how we shape identity, this film makes short work of dismantling our shortcomings.
People do unforgiveable things at any point in their lives. Youth is no excuse for committing certain acts, being complicit through peer pressure or hiding heinous behaviour behind so-called naivety. Even the most genetically blessed and affluent individuals are exposed to the same temptations as those further down the economic ladder. Our desire to attain and retain status either professional or otherwise can lead people to make bad choices. As long as these things are not happening to our loved ones and those we hold dear, why should another person’s pain be our concern.
These opinions, actions and repercussions are what makes Promising Young Woman so incisive. It lives in the realm of human weakness, exposing our flaws and painting a picture which never offers redemption. Even those who seek absolution are damaged beyond repair, defined and eaten up by their own self-loathing. Past events have impacted on everyone and Cassie is two parts conduit and one part catalyst. There is a bravery in the honesty on display here and desire to cinematically illustrate shades of grey in a society where no one plays by the rules. Promising Young Woman is powerful stuff and should be compulsory viewing.
Promising Young Woman is available in the UK from February 12th.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★