Review: 'Promising Young Woman' (2020) Dir. Emerald Fennell
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell and co-produced by Margot Robbie, this story of revenge isn't afraid to shine the good and bad on fragile Carey Mulligan seeking it out...
Cassie Thomas (Mulligan) lives with her parents, has just turned 30 and works in a less-then-glamorous coffee shop. On the outside, she's an ordinary girl. On the inside, she's a women out for brutal revenge.
After her best-friend suffered at the hands of men as a victim of rape, Cassie spends her nights posing as an inebriated woman, catching men out for one thing and making them think twice about their actions.
As she juggles a new romance with young doctor Ryan (Burnham) who makes her feel good, she finds it hard to let go of the past that threatens to ruin her future, with dark and dangerous methods used to try and fix something that may be un-fixable...
From the opening minutes we are thrust into recognisable world of the self-assured, drunken male. Dad dancing and grinding at a nightclub, generalising women in the workplace and then making vulnerable women a target of their own personal sexual conquest for a challenge. It's an uncomfortable but very identifiable situation when played out so well. The tables turn quickly, especially when our lead Carey Mulligan suddenly comes to life and grabs you with dark, smouldering eyes and a strong "fuck you" attitude, all played out to an empowering rendition of "It's Raining Men".
This is a woman, and a film, that is a symbol of dark resilience.
While many people would never have experienced either position that is fronted in this narrative, it still makes for often uncomfortable but engrossing viewing. Men who ply women with drink and drugs and fake sentiment in order to get them on their back, and women who are victims of men and lose track of their surroundings and their cohesion when out for a simple night. As a man, I can say that director Emerald Fennell shows me why I loathe the males who do this sort of thing, but why I love the women who can stand up and fight back against it.
But yet, it's obvious this is a darkly comedic thriller that should be based in reality but is hard to imagine few having the courage and the desire to do what Mulligan's Cassie Thomas does as a vengeful woman. But she's not adverse to trying to find a decent relationship amidst the wealth of scum that darken the view of decent men out there.
Mulligan is one you invest in from the start, never knowing what mood or dark emotion she is feeling. It's this that adds so much strength to the story and is an endearing quality to her evident inner fragility.
Cassie is a woman with an agenda but it's never too clear just what, except it's aimed at men. In specific, men who have caused pain. While part of her narrative is trying to find a sweet attachment to equally sweet young doctor Bo Burnham, the other part is out for revenge. Unfortunately, she's a dangerous woman trying to let go of the past but also unable to move forward into the future without trying to write wrongs.
With her mysterious journal that she scrawls and scribbles in, her journey becomes more apparent with each moment that passes and her goal is clear. You can't help but cheer a little when she lets out her cool and calm retaliation on men who holler and heckle her out for a cheap thrill and immediately see them run with their tail tucked between their legs.
However, what Cassie does in pursuit of this makes for conflicting viewing if she is right or wrong. She's an equal predator, waiting for men to emerge from the shadows circling for their prey, but they aren't ready for this vengeful woman to be on the attack.
The accompanying, unsettling but often hopeful score by Anthony Willis along with Benjamin Kračun's slow, steady framing of characters, lights and colours harkens back to the slow-burning revenge thrillers of the 1970s and 80s. The supporting cast around Mulligan, including Bo Burnham's likeable doctor and parents Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are the safety net around Cassie who remind her all of the good and love in her life she is missing out on by clinging onto the past.
Fennell strikes a really evident balance between both sides of Cassie; colours, style, music, framing - it all helps make scenes either soft and dreamy or cold and thrilling, falling between the two in the flick of a switch and reminding us how much Cassie is truly struggling.
While the final act is questionable, but open to much interpretation, it proves ultimately what a dark, dangerous and damaging society both men and women live in.
Whether it be through subtle comedy, emotive drama or revenge thriller, it's a strong film with a talented cast and crew who know their core message and are not afraid to make it an unsettling journey.
'Promising Young Woman' is a co-production between FilmNation Entertainment and LuckyChap Entertainment