Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, deals with rape and suicide
Carey Mulligan as Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas
Bo Burnham as Dr. Ryan Cooper
Alison Brie as Madison McPhee
Clancy Brown as Stanley Thomas
Jennifer Coolidge as Susan Thomas
Laverne Cox as Gail
Chris Lowell as Al Monroe
Connie Britton as Dean Elizabeth Walker
Director: Emerald Fennell
Nothing in Cassie’s (Carey Mulligan) life is what it appears to be — she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs from the past.
Promising Young Woman was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. From the trailer it looked interesting and bold, and Carey Mulligan looked like she was going to be fantastic in the lead role. Despite it being released a bit later than was originally planned, I actually did manage to watch Promising Young Woman in cinemas and I’m glad I did. Promising Young Woman is stylistic, provocative, excellently made and acted, and it is one of the best movies of 2020.
I won’t say too much about the plot itself, because the less you know going in, the better the experience will be for you. The script from Emerald Fennell was great, I was invested for the entire of its runtime of 113 minutes. One thing worth noting is that the trailer is quite different and not quite representative of the movie. It’s not nearly as violent as I expected it to be (it was given a R18 in New Zealand). However, it was also more disturbing than I expected it to be. It is a little hard to categorise this movie, but the most accurate description I could give is that it is a dark drama and comedy with some thriller elements. The tone does jump all over the place sometimes, but for whatever reason, Fennell pulls it off. It was entertaining and funny at many points, and there’s even a prominent romantic subplot. At the same time the story is still very dark, and a lot of disturbing things happen in it. With the subject matter alone, I can see it potentially being a bit triggering for some people, so keep that in mind before watching. For the most part you don’t really see anything graphic, but rape and sexual assault are nonetheless very prominent aspects of the movie. I’ve seen some people call the movie a bit shallow and honestly I can see why to a degree, even though it was handled much better than I was expecting.
While Promising Young Woman is sort of a revenge movie, it’s a bit different from what you’d expect from it, taking some aspects in different directions. It might have you a bit confused in its first act as you try to figure out what’s happening, who the main character is, what is she doing, etc. I was on board with the movie throughout, but at a certain point it becomes much more mature and asks questions about the protagonist in a great way. With regard to the main character, the film does not demean her motivations, but it definitely asks if any of the things that she does is actually solving anything. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, but I still liked watching it. Then there’s the elephant in the room, the one aspect that could make or break the movie for many, the third act and particularly the ending. Without going into it too much, the ending goes in quite a different direction compared to the rest of the movie, and will be polarising for some people. Now I must admit that through certain circumstances, I already knew of the ending going into the movie, so it wasn’t as shocking for me like it was for others. Having said that, watching the movie from the perspective of someone who knew what was going to happen, to a degree I felt that it was the inevitable conclusion from looking at the overall story and the lead character. With that said, I can definitely see why some people take issue with it.
The casting of everyone was pitch perfect. Carey Mulligan gives quite possibly the best performance of her career as lead character Cassie, she was the perfect person to play this role. She covers such a range of emotions over the course of the movie, and there’s even moments where it’s almost like she switches between 2 different personalities in a single scene. The trauma that is a living part of Cassie’s life (which I won’t reveal) doesn’t feel forced when the viewer watches Mulligan act. There’s a lot of nuance to it, and it isn’t just sadness vibes to reflect her trauma. Overall, Carey Mulligan gave such a thrilling, complex performance, she completely owned the role and understood the character so well. The supporting cast really brought so much to the table to make this film work as well. Bo Burnham is surprisingly great as Cassie’s boyfriend. Even if his character’s fairly predictable from a plot perspective, Bo makes the character his own and has excellent chemistry with Mulligan. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge were funny as Cassie’s parents, and their scenes helped fill out her character in a satisfying way. Other cast members like Alison Brie, Alfred Molina and more also do well in their few (but vital) scenes.
It’s not just the script from Emerald Fennell that was great, it was her direction of the movie too. This is her debut feature film, and it’s definitely a bold and impressive debut at that. Promising Young Woman is meticulously directed on all fronts. First of all, visually it’s absolutely stunning. The visual element of this film is intoxicating, and Fennell seems to have an already established style that feels signature to her. The use of colour is particularly fantastic. Fennell didn’t overlook one production element down to the set design, to the costume design. The sound design was great and stood out too surprisingly, seeing this in a theatre emphasised this and allowed me to really experience it. The use of music and the music choices themselves are fantastic across the board. The amount of well timed needle drops and the sound mix came together to put you directly in Cassandra’s headspace. For example, there’s one moment where it features a violin rendition of Brittany Spears’s Toxic, and it added so much to the scene it was included in.
Promising Young Woman is an unpredictable, well crafted, shocking, and timely movie. It’s excellently written and directed, and the casting is perfect, with Carey Mulligan giving her best performance yet. Now it’s for sure one of the most controversial and polarising movies of 2020, and it won’t work for everyone, but I think it’s one of the best movies from that year.