Promising Young Woman Promises to Entertain

Promising 1British director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, nominated for Best Picture among others, is a riveting feminist thriller that tackles the often difficult to discuss topics of rape culture and victim blaming.

Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) sets out on a mission to avenge her friend’s rape and eventual death, although her methods of doing so are unconventional at best. Any time you think you know what’s coming next, you are proven wrong. Nothing about this film is predictable. You have no choice but to pay full attention for the 1 hour and 54 minutes, but it’s worth every second of your time.

Promising 2A 30-year-old medical school dropout who still lives with her parents, Cassie puts her life on pause as a result of her inability to move on from her friend Nina’s aforementioned tragic demise. She works at a small coffee shop during the day, but her real job begins when the sun sets.

Cassie spends her nights frequenting different clubs, pretending to be blackout drunk. Acting like she is too inebriated to stand, she waits to get picked up by a guy who thinks he’s doing her a favor by taking her home with him. Their intentions are almost never good, usually ending with Cassie being non-consensually kissed and undressed. She gives them every chance to stop what they’re doing, expressing the fact that she doesn’t know what’s going on and wants it to stop, but they never do.

Following her modus operandi, after revealing that she’s stone-cold sober, she walks out and leaves the men with their own thoughts. For some, the silence is louder than anything she could have said or done to them. For others, it doesn’t make a difference. “Why do you guys always have to ruin everything?” was one man’s response to finding out that Cassie wasn’t intoxicated, who was more concerned with the fact that his plans for the night were ruined. It’s sickening, to say the least.

Promising 3Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (best known for her acting roles in The Crown and Call the Midwife), Promising Young Woman hits the nail right on the head.

The plot is captivating and encompasses the best parts of a comedy, thriller, crime, and revenge story all in one, while simultaneously addressing topics that often go unspoken. The Oscar nomination for Best Picture is well deserved, to say the least, as are the additional noms Fennell received for directing and writing.

Nina’s story isn’t uncommon, but it’s too late for her; she’s dead before the film even starts. Instead, the plot follows Cassie’s efforts to rectify what happened. It’s an impossible feat considering there’s nothing she can do to bring Nina back, but you can’t help but root for her as she does everything in her power to make sure that Nina’s name isn’t forgotten and that men don’t continue to get away with what happened to her.

Promising 4Carey Mulligan, who you may recognize as Kitty Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (2005) and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby (2013), did an amazing job with her performance as Cassie.

Cassie suffers from a lot of unhealed emotional trauma, and walks a fine line between normalcy and insanity at times; especially when it comes to the tragedy involving Nina. Her personality can be like day and night at points, but Mulligan plays them both excellently.

Bo Burnham’s role as Ryan Cooper was also respectable, although there wasn’t nearly as much depth to his character as I would’ve preferred. Burnham does a better job acting when Ryan is sweet and flirty toward Cassie at the beginning of their relationship, but it dwindles by the end. Portraying other emotions didn’t seem to come as easily to Burnham, and his performance suffers a bit for it.

Writer and director Emerald Fennell also makes a short appearance in the film as a makeup guru in an online tutorial that Cassie is watching as she gets ready for a night out, not unlike when M. Night Shyamalan has a cameo in his own movie.

Although I have to give Emerald Fennell credit for the amazing writing and directing that went into Promising Young Woman, there are many other strong production values that warrant such recognition.

The film’s soundtrack caught my eye—or, rather, my ear—from the very first scene. All of the songs are about relationships and men, but not in the sense that women are chasing after them. Ranging from classics like “It’s Raining Men” to more recent songs like Charli XCX’s “Boys,” the soundtrack is used as more of a backdrop for the film’s messages about feminism and female empowerment.

The cinematography by Benjamin Kračun is also truly remarkable. It’s difficult to ignore the unique camera placement, movement, and effects that went into Promising Young Woman’s composition. It’s anything but your typical two-shot camera angle, and it tells the story just as much as the writing and directing do. –

Most of the costumes in this film aren’t very noteworthy, but Cassie’s appearance changes drastically between her day shifts at the coffee shop and her nighttime rounds at the club. Her makeup and outfits accurately reflect her temperament changes; it adds another layer to her character and to the film itself, with credit given to costume designer Nancy Steiner and makeup artist Adam Christopher.

The film received an “R” rating, which is fitting considering the nature of the themes it covers. Sexual assault, strong language, and drug use are all prevalent and not appropriate for some audiences. It includes several scenes in which rape and sexual assault are either seen or heard, so viewers who are sensitive to these topics may want to avoid seeing this film. These scenes may be triggering for those who are survivors of such events, so viewer discretion is advised.

Is Promising Young Woman for everyone?

No. The film deals with some touchy subjects, but those that have been avoided for too long and are important to address in the medium of film.

The message of Emerald Fennell’s project is crystal clear: the “boys will be boys” mentality isn’t going to cut it anymore. Men need to be held responsible for their actions, and Cassie does not rest until that message is heard loud and clear. Although rather dramatized, there’s something to be learned from her endeavors. Promising young women deserve to have their voices heard, too.

IMAGE TAKEN from Gold Derby


IMAGE TAKEN from Variety

IMAGE TAKEN from Vulture