Promising Young Woman


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Promising Young Woman
"Fennell explores the lasting effects of traumatic events with care, never making light of the situation even amid moments of comedy." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Carey Mulligan has carved a career in serious roles - from An Education and Shame through to Mudbound and Wildlife. Now, she gets a chance to demonstrate a previously untapped knack for comic timing in Emerald Fennell's debut feature - which was this year's Surprise Film at Glasgow Film Festival.

The anger of the #MeToo movement and something of the 'worm that turned' narrative of the likes of Fay Weldon's Lives And Loves Of A She Devil come together in this heady cocktail of a movie that mixes revenge drama with romantic comedy - although sometimes rather clunkily.

Mulligan plays Cassie, a 30-year-old whose traumatic past has seen her doctor dreams wash up and left her living at home with her mum and dad (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown). In an act of defiance against her past, she vamps herself up of an evening to use herself as bar bait for men looking to prey on women in a weakened state. Tellingly, these men aren't just the usual unpleasant archetypes, with even apparently 'soft' sorts seen to be willing to take advantage of someone if the opportunity presents itself. The turning of the tables once she is alone with the men offers some enjoyable laughs in the film's first scenes before it begins to wade into much darker territory.

Fennell - best known as the showrunner on the second season of Killing Eve - drip-feeds us details of Cassie's past as she tentatively embarks on a romance with Bo Burnham's young doctor Ryan. There's a genuine warmth to these scenes between the two as Fennell explores the lasting effects of traumatic events with care, never making light of the situation even amid moments of comedy and constantly reminding us that, in the real world, actions have consequences.

As the plot widens out in unexpected ways that it would be wrong to detail here, the writer/director shows the insidious way that victim blaming can add to the problems of and re-traumatise those trying to find a way forward. She also explores the way that traumatic events can leave a self-destructive legacy. Cassie may be taking her anger out on people here - but catharsis just won't come.

Mulligan grips her character by the scruff of the neck so tightly that even when the mood switches so quickly from thriller to comedy territory and back again it makes your head spin, you stay with Cassie in all her damaged and delirious glory. Fennell, meanwhile, might not handle all the stylistics perfectly but she makes sure that nobody gets off the hook.

Reviewed on: 06 Mar 2020
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Everyone said Cassie was a promising young woman... until something abruptly derailed her future. Nothing in Cassie’s life is as it appears: she’s smart, cunning, and living a double life by night. Now, Cassie has a chance to right the wrongs of the past in this thrilling take on revenge.
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Director: Emerald Fennell

Writer: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Molly Shannon, Angela Zhou, Sam Richardson, Steve Monroe, Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, Max Greenfield

Year: 2020

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: US

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