Film Review

Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan is a tornado of righteous fury and ruthless retribution in Emerald Fennel’s Promising Young Woman, an unconventional revenge thriller and icky glimpse into the world of men being horrible to women, and the often decades later snowball effect that can have on many lives. This is a crisply made, acid edged, cheerfully furious piece with a bubblegum pop-art visual and musical aesthetic that provides playful contrast to its very dark and fucked up subject matter and while I had a few major issues in the third act, I greatly enjoyed it overall. Mulligan is Cassie, a thirty year old girl working a humdrum barista job and living at home with her quaintly innocuous parents (Clancy Brown & Jennifer Coolidge). Many nights she gets all dolled up, hits the dive bars and takes guys home pretending to be too hammered to object to any advances, and then turns the tables on them in whip-smart fashion. Why does she do this? Well besides the surface level ‘teach shitheads a lesson’ aspect, there’s a much deeper and more personal reason for her actions that stems back to her days ten years earlier in med-school, where she has memories of a best friend who went through something terrible and isn’t around anymore. That’s all I’ll say about the languid and loose yet pointed and intricately structured narrative that is guarded about revealing backstory and let’s the expository nuggets land with devastating thunderclaps as they come. The soundtrack choices are all bangers that are fun yet have a menacing undercurrent, especially a choice like the unbearably eerie theme from the 1955 film Night Of The Hunter in which Robert Mitchum plays a terrifyingly misogynistic psycho disguised as a benign preacher. The supporting cast is meticulously peppered with an eclectic and multigenerational roster of names including Alison Brie, Adam Brody, that McLovin kid, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon and a very memorable Alfred Molina as a scumbag former defender attorney wracked with suicidal guilt. Mulligan herself seems to have been born for this role, or at least tailors her acting style quite a bit off her usual path to play Cass. She’s an actor who mostly finds herself in quiet, observant, introspectively wistful characterizations, full of long stares, sustained silences and expressions that constantly have you wondering what she’s thinking. Here she’s the antithesis of that, punishingly verbose, uncomfortably rambunctiousness and perpetually has her defences up like a cobra ready to strike. And strike she does, although I’m not sure I was quite okay with the script’s decision on her arc overall. Thats not to say I didn’t understand, appreciate and recognize the integral nature of such a turn of events and I can’t say much without spoiling it but I can say that as much as it’s a darkly poetic way for the film to go out, it didn’t quite run congruent with my aspirations for this horrific tale and left somewhat of a bad vibe in my soul. But I suppose in trying to make a story like this 100% effective and memorable, you’ve got to throw a few ‘shock and awe’ curveballs that shirk the usual limbo bar of predictable catharsis and aim to leave the viewer feeling pulverized, disoriented and unnerved to the maximum. In that aspiration, it has certainly succeeded. Great film, if one that left my mental/emotional equilibrium feeling considerably infringed upon. Mission accomplished, I suppose.

-Nate Hill

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