LuckyChap Entertainment delivers a knock-out with first-time feature writer/director Emerald Fennell who assuredly walks a swinging tight-rope without a net with her dark comedy/thriller Promising Young Woman. She’s dared to craft a revenge tale shrouded in mystery that echoes the artistry of Stanley Kubrick, a wicked and smartly written story that makes you think twice (and will likely cause controversy among alpha males).
Those narrow-minded will see Fennell’s film as a male-bashing affair. But, that is absolutely the wrong label to put upon this story about a damaged young woman who for many years tries to right a horrible wrong. Yes, Fennell displays the very worst in men and we know that they are out there. At the same time, she sheds a little hope on those sensitive men as well. They do exist, but the question is – did they ever succumb to their animal brothers? That and many other themes explored make this far more than just an average revenge flick.
Adding to this exemplary film is a bravura performance by Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, a young woman who appears to get drunk at local dives and have men attempt to take advantage of her. When they take her to their home and start making their move, she starkly reveals that her inebriation is an act leaving these predators with what they believe to be uncomfortably exposed to a dangerous psycho.
What is the cause of Cassandra’s odd behavior? She was once a promising med student who dropped out after her best friend had something terrible happen to her at a party. Cassandra’s soul aches because of the past, barely functions as an adult still living at home, working a dead-end job without any social life except for when she hunts predators. This all changes when she meets up with an old classmate Ryan, played with self-deprecating humor and sensitivity by comic Bo Burnham.
Their meeting and eventual dating is touch-and-go with Cassandra always on guard and carrying out her life of revenge. Eventually, Cassandra happens upon an epiphany with one of her up-and-coming victims and with Ryan as well. She is forced to re-evaluate her life, and with this she lets her guard down with Ryan.
But, writer/director Fennell has so much more to open our eyes with and she can practically assure you this is not going to be pleasant for long. Fennell cut her teeth on TV shows such as Drifters and Killing Eve, and now she displays how sharp they are with her first feature. She has a wonderful slight-of-hand technique. One must watch her film very carefully to catch everything that is actually going on with Cassandra.
Mulligan’s character is not exactly the psycho some may think. She’s a whirlpool of emotions and smarts. A master manipulator – in a good way. Yet, we’re almost afraid to cheer her on wondering how far she will really go. Along with Carey Mulligan is a stellar cast that includes Alison Brie (Community), Connie Britton (AHS), Max Greenfield (New Girl), Molly Shannon (SNL), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass), Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black) and Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers) in what has to be one of his most subdued roles.
Then, there is Bo Burnham as Ryan. Burnham hasn’t really made his mark on the big screen until now. Sure, he’s well known as a comic and has done a couple features, but in this film he really gets to show his range. From being disarmingly funny and genuine to a questionable human being, he keeps us off-kilter until Fennell is ready to let us in on his real feelings.
Fennell’s entire production is first-rate to the hilarious opening shots of men cavorting at a club to Cassandra’s loneliness on the empty streets and her desperation for justice that her friend was deprived off. Director of Photography Benjamin Kracun and Fennell make a wonderful team by capturing all the moods while, as I mentioned before, evoking Kubrick’s eye for making us feel uneasy as he did in A Clockwork Orange. The music score is sensational from “It’s Raining Men” to Britney Spears’ most popular “Toxic”, which is incredibly apropos the moment it begins.
Promising Young Woman is funny, sad, thought-provoking and shocking at times. The film will linger in your mind. You may even want to go through several viewings to catch everything Fennell has laid out before you. Of course, you may not be able to do that since it is only available as a Home Premiere/First Run Feature at Amazon, Vudu and other streaming services at $19.99. If that sounds high, think of it this way, if you and your significant other were going to the movies you would probably be paying far more than that after visiting the concession bar. Believe me, this movie is well worth the price of admission.
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Directed by: Emerald Fennell
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Run Time: 113 Minutes
Distributor: Focus Features