At times utterly delirious but also engages with its theme of sexual assault and vengeance with a sobering kind of dynamism, Fennell’s debut feature mostly works despite some moments of overwrought sensationalism.
Dir. Emerald Fennell
2020 | UK/USA | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 113 mins | 2.39:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie
Plot: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who crossed her path.
Awards: Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing; Official Selection (Sundance)
Distributor: United International Pictures
Subject Matter: Moderate – Sexual Assault, Revenge
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: In Theatres – The Projector
A decent feature debut for Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman is a stylish-looking film that pushes the right buttons while at the same time boldly pursuing a cinema of awareness through its timely main theme of sexual assault.
That it is mainstream enough to reach out to a wider audience might suggest the potential of this revitalising formula, that art need not be didactic to make a point.
Carey Mulligan headlines as Cassandra, a young woman who works as a counter girl at a coffee place by day, but turns into a man-slayer at night by pretending to be severely drunk and letting men take her to their respective apartments, only for her to spring them a nasty surprise. Mulligan is low-key explosive in the role, extending her range as an actress.
“It’s every man’s worst nightmare, getting accused of something like that.”
“Can you guess what every woman’s worst nightmare is?”
At times utterly delirious as Fennell goes into darker territory, particularly as it pursues the subtheme of vengeance alongside its main preoccupation, the film’s overall vibe is, however, always enamouring—one might describe her storytelling and artistic direction as being imbued with a sobering kind of dynamism.
It’s attractive to look at but also sends a serious message. In other words, it’s a very 2020 kind of film.
However, there are moments in Promising Young Woman that I feel are overwrought with sensationalism, such as its epilogue, which appears too unnaturally staged.
Its climax is shocking though, and do watch out for Bo Burham who plays a shy pediatrician in a supporting performance every bit as striking as Mulligan’s.