Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020, UK/USA)

Promising Young Woman

In a year with few cinematic conversations, Emerald Fennell's debut feature Promising Young Woman has become a talking piece. The film, which premiered at Sundance in 2020, was delayed from its original theatrical release in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was since released in December 2020, and was nominated at the Oscars - winning the award for Best Original Screenplay. The film was marketed domestically as a #metoo revenge thriller, and while it does play with elements of the revenge film, it is perhaps more of a character study regarding trauma and obsession.

Carey Mulligan, who has often played nice girls on film, plays our heroine Cassandra. A med school dropout who lives at home at age 30, Cassie works in a coffee shop by day. Her nights are spent in secret, pretending she is drunk at bars, getting men to pick her up, and then shaming them when they try to take advantage of her. This premise is a bit of a stretch, and perhaps one of the film's weaker points is its overall believability. Introduce Bo Burnham as the love interest, and the film in its middle section suddenly becomes a romantic comedy.

The film's finale, which takes an incredibly dark turn, is genuinely shocking. It has raised a lot of controversy, especially with regard to the final resolution of the story. Fennell's script takes a remarkably dark view of human nature and men in predictable, with few if any redeemable male characters. While there are enough tonal shifts to keep things interest, overall the film begins to collapse a bit under the weight of this worldview in its final acts. Promising Young Woman is a flawed but conversation-worthy film that will have a life after Oscar season ends. I look forward to seeing what Emerald Fennell does next. 

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