Thursday, December 24, 2020

Promising Young Woman - Review


Every once in a while, a film comes along that feels like a filmmaker announcing their arrival onto the scene in the loudest possible fashion. With Promising Young Woman, director and writer Emerald Fennell delivers a darkly funny, serious and distressing film. Paired with an actress whose comfort in this setting is practically unsettling, and you get one of the year’s best films. 

The story throws the audience straight into its core premise: Cassandra, played by Carey Mulligan, is using her past trauma to strike fear into the hearts of “nice guys”. She travels to bars and clubs, where she appears to be incoherent, virtually unconscious, and waits for some guy to attempt to take advantage. Only she isn’t drunk or drugged, but rather in the middle of her own little game, one that leaves men as fearful as women are on a daily basis. 

From the very earliest scenes, Fennell and Mulligan get the audience to root for Cassie’s happiness. They use this desire incredibly well, building up a past through the present events that illustrate a clear picture of what brought Cassie to this point. The trauma of her past, the event that uprooted her life and future career, lingers over everything, perfectly encapsulating the emotions that so many go through in reality. Even when she does find that sliver of joy, you’re forced to wait for the inevitable emotions to bubble back up to the surface.

And Mulligan’s performance is so essential to making this character work, while being simultaneously sympathetic and removed. It’s both vulnerable and contained, a fierce display of her talents as the actress that should land her firmly in every awards conversation. She is impossible to take your eyes off of for the entirety of the film, and her performance will crawl into your brain and stay there for weeks after viewing. 

As for Fennell, she earns the burden and right of expectations. Everyone who is anyone should be paying attention to where she goes next. She has tapped into something real, a film that truly expresses the terrifying reality that befalls so many individuals in today’s world. In spite of its heightened reality, Promising Young Woman feels hauntingly more real than the most basic dramas. 

Fennell and Mulligan bring this film to life in a way that will certainly be misunderstood by far too many viewers. In many ways, Promising Young Woman isn’t a revenge film so much as it is a tale of twisted grief and blinding fury. Cassandra is in pain, and no amount of violence or intimidation cures that ache, even if the resulting fear is momentarily satisfying. And largely, deserved.

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