Review | Promising Young Woman
Premiering at 2020’s Sundance Film Festival, Promising Young Woman has since been gaining traction as one of the must-see movies of last year, with its timely themes and provocative nature. Not only is this one of the best thrillers in recent years, it’s also one of the most delicious takes on the revenge sub-genre, an unexpected treat that must be seen to be believed.
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (known to most as Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown), Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is a 30-year-old woman living with her parents and working in her friend Gail’s (Laverne Cox) coffee shop. Each night, she goes to a bar and acts mind-numbingly drunk, waiting for a “nice guy” to take her home, at which point she reveals that she is stone-cold sober and ready to talk to them about their actions. When she re-encounters Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), an old classmate from medical school, she starts to wonder if she can heal from her traumatised past in favour of a more stable future.
Cassie is clearly traumatised by an event involving lifelong best friend Nina. Having dropped out of medical school and with seemingly no plans to leave her childhood home, she is stuck in a state of arrested development, all pink outfits, braided hairstyles, and multi-coloured nails, a depressed bubblegum princess. Placed in the hands of a less-established actor, Cassie could come off as immature and frustrating, however, Mulligan’s quiet anger and refusal to back down gives the actor an edge rarely seen in her previous, heavily period-drama dominated work.
The fact that we know exactly what happened to Nina without the sharply written script condescending its audience is a clear indictment on both its subject in popular culture and the way we treat the victims in our society. It’s not so much a mystery as to what happened to her but the fact that we already know, piecing it together with limited information, a well-documented scenario building itself in our minds.
Due to this, one could be forgiven for assuming it predictable, but its highly subversive take on the subject keeps the film feeling fresh until its unforeseeable finale. By casting well-regarded nice-guy actors as the men Cassie encounters on her nights out (Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell), the sentiment is clear: not everyone is as they seem and not every predator is visible upon meeting – and often women pay for the disbelief of others. Fennell’s direction is remarkable (this is her feature debut), a confident and steady hand with an acute awareness and sensitivity to the material. Moments pass deftly between unbearably tense to sugar-coated happiness (see: a montage set to Paris Hilton’s Stars Are Blind) without feeling jarring, a testament to its director’s seemingly innate ability to seamlessly merge the film’s various moods.
Promising Young Woman defies genre to create something entirely of its own - part thriller, part romance, part drama, the amalgamation of tones inexplicably and wonderfully blend together to create something so unique, to compare it to anything else would be a fruitless endeavour.