It has been a while since I have seen Carey Mulligan in anything. I remember seeing her in films like An Education, Drive, and Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby, but I do not recall anything else of memory. Here, in Promising Young Woman, she may be at the top of her game. If you did not know who this actress was then, you will definitely know her in this! Mulligan’s performance has been making rounds as one of the best that 2020 had to offer, and for good reason. Her character, Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas is clever, conniving, sympathetic, and deliciously wicked all in one package. Here is a woman who has a way of getting back at men who use their statuses to take advantage of the vulnerability of women as well as take down those who are oblivious, albeit ignorant, to the injustices that women face at the hands of men. Promising Young Woman is a revenge tale that the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements have been waiting for.
Guaranteed that this film is not the easiest of watches for its triggering subject matter, but writer/director, Emerald Fennell adds a flair typical of an Indie film, and a sort-of dark humor sprinkled throughout. Do not let the marketing fool you. It is less of a seductive revenge thriller and more of a black comedy with revenge on its agenda. Needless to say, that it is a rewarding film that hooks you in and blows you away with its direction. I caught Promising Young Woman at The Pix Theater in Albany, Oregon and I could not fathom the experience. Maybe it was the feeling of seeing a new movie on the big screen after holding off for so long due to the pandemic. Yet, one thing is for certain, Promising Young Woman is a film that needs not to be missed.
From its start, you know what you are immediately in for, as we see a group of people dancing at a club, and a table of men commenting about women in a typical pervy fashion. In comes Mulligan as Cassie seeming like she has had a bit too much to drink; her head slumming down low, her body moving in a tiresome fashion, tipsy to the point of not being able to walk and slurring her words in a confused state. Of course, one of the guys at the table sees her and offers to take her home. Yet, during the cab ride, the guy asks the driver to take him to his place instead, where he can offer her a drink and a conversation, and possibly “get lucky”. Soon as the uncomfortable kissing starts and the guy gets ready to undress Cassie with her drunkedly asking “What are you doing?”, we are treated to a shock as she looks at the camera, a sly grin on her face, and asks the guy “Hey. What are you doing?”. Only, she is not really drunk. At this point, she has put her potential rapist in a corner and tries to school him on his behavior. She has his number and he does not know what to do about it. It is a moment that may be deemed to be a memorable opening and a warning for men.
It is clear that Cassie is a woman not to be messed with and with good reason. She was a med school student trying to get a career in the field, until something tragic happened to her best friend, Nina Fisher, which caused Cassie to drop out entirely. Now, she is spending her days working at a coffee shop chatting it up with her coworker, Gail (Laverne Cox), and living with her loving parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge), while at night, she peruses through the bars, pretending to be drunk as to lure men into taking her home and checking their morality. Most of the men, as expected, do try to take advantage of her, especially Christopher Mintz-Plasse in an uncomfortably creepy turn as a man who even attempts to do cocaine with her. Mulligan has mostly been known for playing roles in romantic films or as love interests to the heroes, yet in Promising Young Woman, she holds her own. While there is a budding romance between Cassie and her former classmate, Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham in a wonderful performance), which lends the film its funniest moments, this is Mulligan’s movie through-and-through; her performance is commanding as her character is conniving. Whether she is cutting down an ignorant Dean at her medical school (Connie Britton), or meeting an old friend (Alison Brie) for lunch to exact her revenge, our attention is caught in her grasp, as we sit on the edge of our seats, wondering what will happen next. It is that kind of tension that gives us the unease while also being darkly funny. It all builds up to a climax that is equally shocking, off-putting for some, and taking a different turn until all the pieces fall into place, cultivating into an ending that will make you think about it long after the movie is over.
There was no perfect time for Promising Young Woman to be released, with awards season in full swing, Emerald Fennell’s film deserves as much attention as it needs. I recommend checking it out as soon as possible!