Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman would have been the perfect satirical, gurl-power thriller of 2010. Everything from the supporting cast (Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, etc.) to the sardonic dialogue, the electronic based soundtrack, and the edgy, metaphorical message of misogyny and sexual misconduct makes it fit right alongside Karyn Kusama’s Jennifer’s Body (2009) and David Fincher’s Gone Girl (2014).
Even the retro neon color schemes for the title sequence and club/party scenes remind us of lead Carey Mulligan’s previous hit, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011). I can’t speak for everyone, but when I first saw the trailer for Fennell’s directorial debut a year ago, I rolled my eyes. But fortunately, Promising Young Woman isn’t nearly as predictable or redundant as it easily could have been.
Mulligan portrays Cassandra, a 30-year-old med school drop-out whose days are spent working at a local coffee shop and ignoring her parents’ (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) pleas to move out of the house. At night she roams the city pretending she’s wasted to scare men who might be casual sexual predators. Cassie’s secret lifestyle is turned on its head when former med schoolmate Ryan (Bo Burnham) moves into town, with the two quickly reconnecting and dating. Things become even more convoluted when she discovers Ryan used to be friends with the man who influenced Cassie’s best friend’s suicide a decade ago.
Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton and Max Greenfield round out the cast of recognizable faces. Promising Young Woman is a whole whirlwind of emotions from start to finish. The first act really does feel like Fennell binge-watched a handful of Diablo Cody projects one weekend before writing her own script. In a lesser film, I could have seen where this ‘crazy lady revenge’ tale was going in an instance. But the second act interestingly takes a different twist with the Cassie/Ryan relationship that makes us almost disappointed where the third act goes. The backlash and polarizing reactions from critics and movie fans are almost warranted until the very last scene where Fennell redeems her characters and plot. During a more ordinary movie season, I think Promising Young Woman probably would fall under the radar pretty easily. Like I mentioned previously, it aesthetically feels very much of the late ‘00s/early ‘10s. And even with the cleverness sewn into the story’s structure, the film doesn’t really say anything new about double standards in society.
Nevertheless, Mulligan and Burnham have good chemistry together and Mulligan herself reminds us she is one of the more versatile actors of her peer group. Fennell does at least try something original with the twists and turns in Promising Young Woman, and it’s enough for me to recommend for a new movie to stream over a weekend.
You can watch Promising Young Woman on Amazon Prime Video today!
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