• Nate Adams

Review: Carey Mulligan out for revenge in fresh thriller 'Promising Young Woman'


Courtesy of Focus Features

A rape revenge thriller with a twist, Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” is one of 2020’s finest. Timely, but striking a triggering nerve worth discussing,”Promising Young Woman” is misogynistic culture’s worst nightmare. If not for the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, it’s anyone’s guess if Fennell’s vision would remain in tact, but in her feature-length directorial debut, she takes on the system and indirectly exposes how societal institutions cover-up rape culture.


Carey Mulligan - in an Oscar worthy performance - plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year old medical school drop out spending her days spinning lattes at the local coffee shop with Gail (Laverne Cox). Her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) expect more of their daughter who was top of her class, but Cassie has different plans. At night, she visits local clubs pretending to be intoxicated. When a sleazebag tries to take advantage of this (pushing unconsenting sexual relations) she quickly changes the narrative and puts them in their place. Her reasoning is simple, and explains why she left med school, but when an old pal, Ryan (Bo Burnham in a breakthrough performance) stumbles back into her life, she’s given the rare opportunity to make the people who destroyed her life suffer.


Featuring a star-studded lineup: Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, Allison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell, Connie Nielsen, and Alfred Molina, “Promising Young Women” doesn’t waste a moment of the audiences time, slowly building a framework for what becomes a massive, jaw dropping finale. Fennell’s script subverts minimal expectations from the start, by showing how predatory males can be. No matter how bad the damage is, somehow rich, frat boys can still play the victim. It brings to mind the case of Brock Turner and how, because of his great community standing, was let go with a slap on the wrist. “Promising Young Woman” is the answer to the hierarchy who allows monsters like that to roam free.


There’s also a relatable element to Cassie that some could feel attached too. Though she is unflinching in her revenge quest, women could relate on a personal level to being attacked or hurt in the way depicted on screen. Thanks to Mulligan, there’s acute clarity in the character’s motivations and objectives. For an actress whose career has yielded many critical and commercial hits, this is her best.


On the other hand, Fennell’s script packs an emotional wallop, offering something unique in the laundry list of revenge thrillers, despite an ending that works but doesn’t have the overall impact suggested by the entire film. In other words, it won’t leave audiences feeling peachy and copacetic about the state of our world. It’ll probably make them feel worse. But for Cassie, and Fennell, it’s the ending that makes sense. The jury is still out on how folks will feel about the conclusion to Cassie’s conquests, but the discourse is guaranteed to clog the airwaves once people have the chance to process.


Needless to say, “Promising Young Woman” is not what most will expect in terms of narratives surrounding sexual assault and rape. Fennell’s vision and eye for writing engaging characters meshes perfectly with what the film is trying to accomplish. The intentional choices in regards to violence (which could trigger assault survivors) shown on camera is deliberate and not for shock value, and it might inspire others to not let “nice guys” off the hook so easily.


“Promising Young Woman” isn’t for everyone and its themes aren’t exactly screaming holiday cheer, but those who take the plunge will find themselves engrossed in a shocking tale of fearless revenge, punctuated by an ace lead performance and stellar supporting cast. Though the ending is cause for scrutiny, make no mistake, it’s still an entertaining as hell thriller that sends a much needed shockwave through the industry. Watch your back.


Grade: A-


PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN opens in theaters December 25th and debuts on PVOD mid-January.


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