‘Promising Young Woman’ is More Than Worth the Wait
For some it was the entire slate of Marvel films, while for others it was the 25th Bond Film or the ‘Top Gun’ sequel. Regardless the preference, chances are that if you’re a film fan, 2020 severely delayed something you were looking forward to seeing.
While I was looking forward to those films, the one that I was most excited for was Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman.’ After hearing good things out of Sundance last winter and catching an early trailer, I was counting down the days to April 17. And then … COVID-19. And then several delays. And then counting down the days to December 25. And then Minnesota theaters closed, again.
But now, here we are on January 15 and the film is still playing in theaters (including those here in Minnesota) and has arrived on Video on Demand.
And I must say, ‘Promising Young Woman’ is more than worth the wait.
Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra in director Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’ a Focus Features release. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
By day, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is a coffee shop employee who is approaching 30, lives with her parents and dropped out of medical school after her friend, Nina, was raped and nobody at the school – from classmates to administration – took her claims seriously.
By night, or at least on weekends, Cassie takes on an entirely different persona – that of a seemingly incredibly intoxicated woman who meets men at bars and gets them to take her to their place. If they try to “take advantage” of the situation, she teaches them the error of their ways and they make it into her little notebook.
Her mission shifts when an old classmate, Ryan (Bo Burnham), comes into the coffee shop and asks Cassie out on a date. She eventually accepts, and while she genuinely enjoys being with him, their shared past also reminds her of the past and the still-painful wounds of what happened to Nina and how it changed both of their lives forever.
Unable to “move on,” as is often suggested to her, Cassie sets out to make figures from past pay for their indiscretions.
Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie and Bo Burnham stars as Ryan in director Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman,’ a Focus Features release. (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace. Courtesy of Focus Features.)
First, let’s talk about the story. I have plenty of friends, particularly those that love thrillers and horrors, that are tired of the “female victim gets vicious retribution” trope. I, however, can think of few things more satisfying than watching some dirtbag(s) getting their comeuppance – at least when it’s done right. And Fennell – who also wrote the script – gets it right. While justified in her actions, Cassie pushes the envelope with what most would generally consider “acceptable” – even in the case of revenge – and you’re never quite sure if she’s whip smart, insane (as is suggested by other characters) or some scary combination of the two. Having her walk that fine line between brilliance and insanity was an incredibly adept and effective decision, and you often find yourself simultaneously cheering Cassie and asking if maybe she’s gone too far.
Actor Carey Mulligan, writer/director Emerald Fennell and actor Laverne Cox on the set of ‘Promising Young Woman,’ a Focus Features release. (Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace. Courtesy of Focus Features.)
Next, we have to talk about Mulligan. Over the years I’ve seen her in plenty of films, including ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and ‘Public Enemies,’ and I’ve never really found myself with any strong opinion – either positively or negatively – about her work … I was indifferent, Switzerland. But here? WOW. Cassie is
charming, insane, affable, terrifying, brilliant, and everything in between – sometimes in the blink of an eye. She’s the kind of girl you’d want to bring home to your parents, whether because you love them or want to scare the crap out of them. Some of that is because of the script, the bulk of it is on Mulligan. Every single time she’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off her – and not because she’s blonde and pretty, but because she’s electric every second of screen time.
Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie in director Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’ a Focus Features release. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
If there’s one minor nit to pick, it’s that we don’t see Cassie’s motivations quite as fast as we might like. But perhaps seeing the end results before knowing the why actually adds to the overall aesthetic.
More often than not, when there’s a film I really want to see and have months to build it up in my mind, it doesn’t reach expectations. However, ‘Promising Young Woman’ not only meets those expectation, it blows them out of the water.
★★★★★ of ★★★★★