Film Review: Promising Young Woman (2020)

Carey Mulligan is in blisteringly good form leading Emerald Fennell’s debut film Promising Young Woman

“What are you doing?”

Emerald Fennell will forever be Call The Midwife’s Nurse Patsy for me but beyond her work as an actor (she’s an excellent Camilla in The Crown too), she’s also a writer and director too with credits from children’s literature to Series 2 of Killing Eve for which she was also the showrunner.  Promising Young Woman marks her feature debut as writer. director and producer and with a scorchingly good Carey Mulligan at the helm of her cast, its an accomplished first bow.

Mulligan plays Cassie, a 30 year old med school dropout who is working through some horrific trauma by spending her weekends acting passed-out drunk in bars, accepting the inevitable offers from men to take her home and then scaring the crap out of them when they inevitably initiate sexual assault by ‘snapping’ out of it and forcing a conversation about consent. When a chance encounter with a former classmate offers an irresistible opportunity for real revenge, she starts to plan…

The level of twisted revenge thriller that Promising… ends up at is undoubtedly something of a rollercoaster. Tackling such a sensitive a subject as sexual assault in such a forthright manner will certainly ruffle some feathers but Fennell does a good job in capturing a specific kind of female rage, one which feels all the more pertinent at this particular moment. She’s excellent at depicting the everyday misogyny of a society that doesn’t even notice or worse, doesn’t even care about the way it lets men get away with treating women in such a manner.

There’s a deal of tonal variety in the film though, that feels a little tricky to get onboard with. Perhaps reflecting a ‘messiness’ that comes with PTSD-like existence, the lurches from dark comedy to outright tragedy and all inbetween would be too difficult were Mulligan not able to ride them out so convincingly (ironically, she’s never been funnier). But the ending is one to ponder – its a bravura move and one which I’m still not sure actually comes off but given that I’m still thinking about it, maybe it did work. 

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