Movie Review: Promising Young Woman

“I’m afraid it’s your day of reckoning”

– Carey Mulligan as Cassandra

By Cain Dennis

Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” is unlike any other film I got to see in 2020, and although last year was relatively bare when it came to film releases, “Promising Young Woman” would likely have been one of my favorites even in a stronger, more normal year. It is a completely unique experience that puts a refreshing new face on the revenge thriller genre.

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassandra, a woman who spends her nights at bars, just waiting for men to take her home under the guise of helping her and try to take advantage of her. When we see her notebook filled with tally marks early in the film, we know she’s been doing this for a long time, and has no shortage of awful men to take her revenge on. From the get-go, this film’s style bleeds through with a retro video game style title card. “Promising Young Woman” really gets moving once Cassandra realizes that the people who perpetrated and enabled the abuse of her friend Nina are within her reach. Emerald Fennell’s script is perfectly paced, and wraps in comedy along with extreme darkness. Bo Burnham is Ryan, an old classmate of Cassandra’s who has just re-entered her life. Burnham is wonderful in this movie, and brings a great comedic energy to his performance, he also has great chemistry with Carey Mulligan. There were a lot of actors that I recognized playing relatively small roles, namely Clancy Brown, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Alison Brie. Everyone in this film does a great job and fit the stylized world that Emerald Fennell builds with her direction, and the breaking of the story into chapters, signified by roman numerals and a rumbling bass sound expertly build tension and guide you into what is coming next. I was always wondering how Cassie would top what she had just done, whether through violence or manipulation towards those she is going after.

“Promising Young Woman” grapples with difficult themes and events and is genuinely uncomfortable at times, and even though it is at its heart a revenge story, it never exploits the theme of abuse. Cassandra’s character is empowered by what she does, even when she struggles with how to proceed. I have seen this film’s ending being a point of contention among those who have already seen it and are discussing it online. Without saying anything too spoiler-y it seems that some viewers think that the ending goes against the story the film follows all the way through but I thought that it was excellent, and definitely surprising. It’s a conclusion that people could argue about and discuss for a long time. The music by Anthony Willis is great as well, an orchestral version of Toxic by Britney Spears sticks out as the most memorable piece. Technically, the movie just clicks perfectly, with amazing editing and cinematography so good that I still have shots stuck in my head. Every shot is perfectly framed, especially when the image just lingers on Cassandra and we know exactly what she is feeling.

There’s a lot of great things to say about “Promising Young Woman”. I think it’s one of the most provocative films I’ve seen in quite some time and it’s still bouncing around in my head nearly a week after seeing it. I can’t believe that this is Emerald Fennell’s first feature film, and while she has written and produced other projects, this movie feels like one directed by a more experienced filmmaker. Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham’s performances are great and the ending caps off the film incredibly.

“Promising Young Woman” is a

9/10

“Promising Young Woman” is in theaters now and streaming January 25th

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