Promising Young Woman
Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, and Connie Britton
Written and Directed by Emerald Fennell
Rated: 14A for coarse language, disturbing content (including scenes of sexual violence), weapons violence, and substance use
Runtime: 113 minutes
Now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital on demand
She's drunk at the club, practically passed out on the couch, lost her phone, and a nice guy is offering her a ride home. Instead, they end up at his home with more drinks and she soon needs to lie down. You can probably see where this is going and it is isn't going to be pretty.
But wait, Promising Young Woman has a sense of your expectations and easily breezes past them with perhaps a bit of black humour and maybe some extra lipstick. Our heroine spends her free time casually entrapping potential rapists and then confronting them at just the right moment. Pretty effective stuff there.
All praise subversion, especially in the category of sexual politics. This isn't some legal drama like The Accused but you could safely chalk it up to something akin to a revenge fantasy more along the lines of French director Coralie Fargeat's Revenge or Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill but with guts not guns, words not swords.
Carey Mulligan's Cassie is a medical school dropout still living with her parents in Ohio. That situation can be bad enough, so she's not about to have some guy make her life worse by sexually assaulting her. No sir, she knows how that can mess you up after one of her friends was raped by a classmate earlier in their lives. This actually seems to be her life's mission: play the bait so that she can stop them in their tracks before they actually commit the act. Changing the mind of your enemy is the greatest victory.
Now 30, she catches wind that her friend's perpetrator is about to get married, which is the perfect opportunity for him to receive his comeuppance, which the film plays out with exacting proficiency.
Holy crow, what a great film: wonderfully created and realized by debut screenwriter and director Emerald Fennell who had perfect casting with Mulligan taking the lead. There's a few good reasons why the film has just been nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay. It's already catalogued dozens upon dozens of other awards from the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Screen Actors Guild, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. I'm not sure how well this would rate on the Bechdel Test for female representation in cinema, but I think it should get a special notation for its strengths, thanks to Fennell and Mulligan. It was also named one of the ten best films of 2020 by the National Board of Review, so don't let theatre closures prevent you from experiencing important cinema, even if it means that you have to watch big stories on your big screen. This is a movie that you have to watch for yourself, and then discuss with your friends. It is, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year, and an audacious one at that.