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Promising Young Woman – Movie Review

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Promising Young Woman – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Focus Features

There are far too many stories of women being taken advantage of in a situation, so it’s refreshing to see a movie that tackles that subject head on. Through Promising Young Woman, director/writer Emerald Fennell uses humour and the needed uncomfortableness in depicting lead protagonist Cassie’s revenge plot. As aided by a lead performance from Carey Mulligan, Cassie becomes an engaging personality and Fennell puts together a number of scenes that get to the heart of the matter. One isn’t sure what she is going to do next and her romantic subplot with a young doctor further fleshes the character out. Promising Young Woman will certainly anger several men in the audience and for good reason.

Fennell establishes the film’s tone early on when we see Cassie’s strategy of duping men in the opening scene. It’s a solidly put together sequence involving Adam Brody in a small role and there’s an even better moment later on with Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Mulligan effectively switches from fake drunk to being in command of the situation and that adds to the humour of these sequences. The way she flummoxes these men is brilliantly inspired and plays into what an impressively realised character Cassie is. Outside of the night clubs and bedrooms, the movie also fleshes her out and properly explores why she partakes in these night time activities.

Her scenes with Bo Burnham’s doctor are sprinkled with fun dialogue exchanges, although Fennell also makes sure to show the difficulties of this relationship. While Cassie is essentially the hero of the story, she is still a flawed individual and someone dealing with a lot. Fennell puts together a number of uncomfortable and tense scenes, with one exchange with a college dean standing out. Cassie is portrayed as focused, but not necessarily with a one-track mind and that helps flesh her out. A sequence in which Alfred Molina plays a lawyer is an example of the complexities involved in her character.

The story takes some unexpected turns, especially in the third act, and Promising Young Man builds exceptionally well to certain moments. In her feature directing debut, Emerald Fennell already shows a keen visual eye and style. This is clear with the stylised font used for the opening titles and she also makes plenty of clever soundtrack choices that fit with the mood of the scenes. Benjamin Kračun’s cinematography pushes the colours of Cassie’s world. While Promising Young Woman is a dark comedy, it doesn’t sugar coat the difficulties women face in a misogynistic world and Mulligan properly displays the pain Cassie is going through.

Promising Young Woman ultimately works as a genre-bending revenge thriller that will be cathartic to many women. There is a delight in seeing Cassie manipulate these men and skewer ideas of what many modern men view as “chivalry.” Carey Mulligan carries the movie with a terrific performance and the script remains sharp and funny. The many tones are well handled, but the most exciting part comes from seeing this as the start of a promising directing career. Fennell has primarily written for television before this and she makes a seamless jump to directing and writing features and there’s an immediate anticipation for what she will create behind the camera next.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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