Promising Young Woman
Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) surprises the hell out of Jerry (Adam Brody) while he’s attempting to take her clothes off by suddenly appearing sober as a judge. He’d played chivalrous escorting what he thought was the blacked out drunk young woman from the Blue Star Bar. Meanwhile, her parents, Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) and Stanley (Clancy Brown), are mystified as to why the 30 year-old is now living with them and working as a barista when she was once a top student medical student, a “Promising Young Woman.”
Laura's Review: B+
You might be skeptical if you hear that the woman making her feature directorial debut with this film is Emerald Fennel, the writer of ‘Killing Eve’s’ thoroughly disappointing second season. But if the promising young woman of the title is surprising folks in the film, the filmmaker also pulls a rabbit out of the hat with this feminist revenge thriller laced with black comedy that looks at rape culture from unexpected angles. Featuring a sprawling, well cast ensemble led by a pitch perfect Mulligan, a trickily plotted script, tongue-in-cheek song selections and cheeky production design, “Promising Young Woman” is hugely entertaining – and disturbing.
When we next meet Cassie she’s perplexing her Make Me Coffee boss Gail (Laverne Cox) who is trying to promote her away from her lack of customer skills. A new one, Ryan ("Eighth Grade's" writer/director Bo Burnham), turns out to be a link to Cassie’s past at Forrest University and a possible romantic interest when he seems to buck her preconceptions about men. But as this relationship slowly proceeds, Cassie sticks to her secret agenda, avenging the college gang rape of her best friend Nina, an event so traumatic, the young woman committed suicide (Cassie wears the half a heart necklace usually associated with romance to keep herself connected to her late friend).
Fennel crosses off the most obvious example of her theme before the opening credits, Jerry and his buddies talking Christmas Party stripper poles and boo-hooing female colleagues unable to join them at the golf course set between soundtrack selections ‘Boys’ and ‘It’s Raining Men,’ before moving on to other aspects of her theme. Neil (Christopher 'McLovin'' Mintz-Plasse) keeps telling Cassie what a nice guy he is before cowering in fear when she proves him decidedly wrong. And Fennel doesn’t let women, complicit in their quest for the comforts of money and power via fealty to the patriarchy, off the hook either, former classmate Madison (Alison Brie) and Dean Walker (Connie Britton) having dismissed Nina’s accusations to support her attacker. Cassie hunts down his lawyer (Alfred Molina), only to forgive him when he not only remembers Nina well, but confesses his inability to sleep at night. We seem to be at a turning point when Nina’s mom (Molly Shannon) begs her to let it go and get on with her life and romance with Ryan (illustrated in an amusing montage set to Paris Hilton’s ‘Stars Are Blind’) takes flight only to go down the film’s darkest path when Madison shows up with a forgotten piece of evidence.
That description won’t prepare you for all the deliciously crossed t’s and dotted i’s of Fennel’s screenplay, nor all the clever ways Cassie’s found to deliver justice. There is care given here to flesh out each of Cassie’s relationships, her dad breaking the tension of her parental one with insight, another stunning us in the film’s third act. The fourth, represented with the tally marks Cassie fills her notebook with, is quite gruesome, Christopher Lowell and 'New Girl's' Max Greenfield representing men in a new low that they themselves note as a 90’s movie cliché and which Fennel accompanies with her most brilliant song choice, “The King & I’s” ‘Something Wonderful.’
Mulligan’s Cassie is cautious and caustic, confident and crusading, a righteous woman to root for. Bo Burnham is a sympathetic foil, the real deal nice guy whose patience persuades. Fennel’s gotten strong work across the board, the filmmaker, an actress herself, cameoing in a YouTube tutorial on ‘blow job lips.’ The production is all girly girly pastels in Cassie’s environments, favoring stronger primary colors in male dominated ones (note the dead plants in the lawyer’s home, the type of attention to detail that gives a film its flavor). Mulligan, sporting long blonde tresses until the film’s final transformation into a shorter bob featuring the pastel shades of her multi-colored nails, is attired by costume designer Nancy Steiner (‘Twin Peaks: The Return’) in everything from innocent rosebuds to sleek office attire to a vampy nurse outfit.
With “Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennel combines several tones and genres with a mixologist’s flair. It’s a heady, but toxic cocktail.