Synopsis – A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.
My Take – On general note I don’t prefer to watch films based around themes of rape and revenge, as I do not possess the stomach to witness the turmoil the victim of the said assault goes through. However, something about this film from its first look caught my eye.
While it does deal with the subject matter of rape, suicide and injustice, here, the film’s writer-director Emerald Fennell, the show-runner for the second season of acclaimed TV series Killing Eve, brings a certain pop culture charm, similar in vein to her show’s sense of black comedy and genre-mashing, that turns her feature directorial debut into a Kill Bill for the #MeToo Era, featuring an absolutely flamboyant performance from Carey Mulligan.
Ringing in cheesy songs such as Paris Hilton‘s Stars are Blind, to a classical ominous version of Britney Spears‘s Toxic, the film segues quite brilliantly from a hilarious romantic comedy to a dark thriller while keeping things interesting, entertaining, and most importantly deifying labels of expectations. It goes in directions that thrillers with supplemental dramatic beats rarely go.
It’s edgy, inventive, highly original, and climaxes with an absolute bang, leaving you emotionally exhausted by the end. It’s a groundbreaking exercise in payback that veers away from the familiar road of fists, bullets, and blood-splattered walls. At times we are tempted to laugh at some situations, before being reminded in the end that our perceptions can make us too a complicit.
The story follows Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan), a former medical student, who now works in a coffee shop run owned by her friend, Gail (Laverne Cox), and lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown). However, Cassie has an unusual hobby no one is aware of. At nights she goes alone to clubs, pretends to be in a state of incoherence, and then terrifies the supposed “nice guys” who take her home.
All to replay a trauma that she cannot get past, one that upended her life when it happened to her closest friend. Her life gets further complicated following an encounter with Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former classmate, who seems like a nice guy without the quotation marks, and, before long, a romance ensues, but Cassie remains guarded about why and how she spends her evenings, after all her ultimate plan is still due.
What follows is a brilliantly conceived tale, filled with plenty of narrative turns, and a killer soundtrack, resulting in a film that cannot be easily shaken off or forgotten. Here, the film takes its time in revealing the full reason for the crusade which has hijacked the life of Cassie, sending her out each week to humiliate any man unwise enough to take advantage of her seemingly intoxicated state, but director Fennell devises some sleek and smart set pieces that keep you engaged nevertheless.
There is no doubt of the fact that writer-director Emerald Fennell has made an unforgettable debut as a feature filmmaker that’s as stylish as it is scary, putting the viewer in the uncomfortable position of questioning our motivation for rooting for Cassie. Especially at times when it all feels rather bleak, making you hope if Cassie will get her happily ever after with pediatric oncologist and former college classmate Ryan.
Thankfully, although the film does have its uncomfortable moments, the tone shifts radically from one moment to the next, and humor is a regular companion to mayhem, pain, even violence, and best, it is engulfed in a confetti and rainbow colored palate that is extremely pleasing to the eyes. The coffee shop where Cassandra works as a waitress has a frothy pink and white palette, while her parents’ house is a time capsule, full of gilt, and the cutest of figurines. It’s a visual iteration of the fact that her life has stalled since the trauma that inspired her urge for revenge.
But since director Fennell has already proved adept at subverting so many rom-com clichés, it’s clear that the troubles that invariably follow such bliss are going to come with a twist. And while it’s not much of a surprise, it heralds a climax and an ending which are anything but predictable. It’s an ending that may not be expected but director Fennell has said it was the truest way to end a real story of female revenge, not a comic-book version.
In the end though, the film’s legacy will be that it will make us, especially the heterosexual male, think rethink about our own and our friend’s behavior towards women, and about what we should do/have done in certain situations. And as scenes with Madison McPhee (Alison Brie) and Dean Elizabeth Walker (Connie Britton) attest, it’s not only men who have retribution awaiting, but other woman too.
A major credit of the film’s success goes to the wonderful, fiery, yet vulnerable performance from Carey Mulligan. The actress is usually known for playing soft, quietly suffering characters here, though, she gives a fierce, take-no-prisoners portrayal of a woman striking back against all who have wronged her. Mulligan is brutally honest and just plain fun in this as she demonstrates the depth of the talent and her ability to carry a film almost single-handed. Following closely behind her is a tremendously appealing Bo Burnham. Ryan is a particularly well-written role, full of funny lines, which Burnham delivers with smart timing and a winning modesty.
The stellar supporting cast includes the likes of Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, Christopher Lowell, Max Greenfield, Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown, who are all excellent in their roles. In one of roles, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Sam Richardson also leave an impression. On the whole, ‘Promising Young Woman’ is an excellent confrontational tale of revenge and retribution with escalating suspense and humor.
Directed – Emerald Fennell
Rated – R
Run Time – 123 minutes