Promising Young Woman is a provocative call to arms that’s both committed to its cause and impossibly funny. It’s one hell of a feature-length debut from writer/director Emerald Fennell, who has previously acted on the UK’s Call the Midwife and Netflix’s The Crown, as well as wrote for AMC’s Killing Eve.
Fennell’s film is about an ongoing power imbalance between genders, with men objectifying women and treating them as “a piece of ass” (for lack of better words). But for Cassandra, reclaiming the nasty “piece” label, she prides herself as a Queen on a vengeful chessboard. Posing as a defenceless free spirit at busy nightclubs and bars, she attracts deceitful hot shots who try and woo her back to their place. There’s a common factor with the men that pick her up (and not only because they’re all played by otherwise likeable comedic character actors): they boast about their charm and consideration, but feel no shame in targeting vulnerable, drunk women for sex. This archetype, we later find out, is what drives Cassandra to carry out a ruse which results in sobering confrontation.
Promising Young Women offers an important perspective; challenging the audience with moral conundrums while having full control of the story’s tone. This control is seen throughout Fennell’s writing and directorial vision, and thorough Carey Mulligan’s fantastic performance. The movie continues to raise the stakes by offering a humbling love interest for Cassandra to question her cynicism without jeopardizing her intellectual dexterity, and a personal plot which not only threads its way back to the cause of Cassandra’s vendetta, but is also the antithesis to the growth she’s experiencing. You’ll be thinking about Promising Young Woman long after the credits roll, and long after you chalk it up as one of the best movies of 2020.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie