Writer/Director: Emerald Fennell
Production: FilmNation Entertainment, Focus Features, LuckyChap Entertainment
Distributor: Universal Pictures International (UPI)
Platforms: Blu-ray (Reviewed), DVD, Streaming
Release Date: Out Now!
Some films you really need to see – and this is one of them. Promising Young Woman mixes important themes of relationships, sexual abuse, and their lasting effects with stylish, contemporary delivery that make it always absorbing – but never at the expense of the messages it’s putting on screen.
The majority of the film is spent with Cassandra (Carey Mulligan). Cassie (for short) is a young woman who spends one evening a week acting drunk at clubs, to see if any “nice guys” who offer their help have ulterior motives – and then, at the crux moment, Cassie reveals her sobriety with sudden, bold effect that leaves the perpetrator reeling. There are deeply personal, and horrific, motivating factors behind why Cassie started this, related both to her own past and that of her best friend Nina; as the film continues, we gradually learn more about this and how it connects to Cassie’s current stagnating life.
Speaking of, one day whilst working in the local coffee shop, Cassie meets the charming Ryan (Bo Burnham), and they begin to develop a genuinely affectionate and feel-good relationship. It’s a contrast to some of the darker subject matter, and is tough not to smile at as they dance around and have witty conversation. However, their links to people in their pasts start to unfold – and, tellingly, subtle moments hint to something bubbling under the surface, but not in the way you might expect…
Without saying too much, the premise is bold and important, for reasons that gradually layer up. Furthermore, it’s all elevated by the way it’s presented. A striking palette, primarily of strong pinks and blues, is combined with a knowing implementation of framing and angles – subsequently, the film practically drips subtext. For all the smart editing and well-paced back-and-forths, though, it’s noticeable that complex subject matter is never belittled or distracted away from, and it’s a balance well struck.
It doesn’t surprise me that this film is from LuckyChap Entertainment, with Margot Robbie producing, as it has the sort of modern, unafraid presentation – and energetic, relevant music selection – of an I, Tonya or Birds of Prey. Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan is a tour de force as Cassie, utterly capturing every scene and making sure you’re both listening attentively to the sharp, intelligent dialogue, and really thinking about it in relation to yourself. Whilst Cassie/Carey takes the spotlight, that isn’t at the expense of a fantastic supporting cast, including Alison Brie as a reunited friend and Alfred Molina as a distraught factor in prior events.
Not only does Promising Young Woman have essential questions to ask and themes to tackle, but it does so with sophisticated judgement and entertaining flair that are inherently watchable, even when you think you might have to tear your eyes away. It’s this combination that make the film so necessary – these topics are too often looked away from or swept under the rug, and Promising Young Woman is all about saying, and showing, that shouldn’t be the case. See. This. Film.