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Promising Young Woman Movie Review: Bubblegum Colored And Dark At The Core

I have seen plenty of revenge films, usually made with a man at the helm. I am not saying a man cannot tell a woman’s story, but I cannot help but think that having a female writer and director is why Promising Young Woman feels so fresh.

The film opens with a very male-gazey sequence of business bros dancing uninhibitedly at a bar, setting up from the start that this movie plans to be different from anything you have seen before. The bar is where we meet Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan), the titular “promising young woman.” She looks drunk to the point of near blackout—but things are not always how they appear. Cassie experienced something traumatic in her past, and now her sole mission is to even the score.

Carey Mulligan stars as “Cassandra” in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Promising Young Woman works the best when you do not know what to expect. Writer and director Emerald Fennell somehow manages to start the movie off with a bang and still let the main story unfold gradually. I had so many questions from the jump. Some of those questions get answered as the movie progresses. Some of them are still a mystery. I cannot help but think this was a purposeful choice made by Fennell to keep things from ever feeling fully resolved. Life seldom wraps things up neatly in a nice little bow, and neither does this film.

Mulligan fully embodies the cynical Cassie in a performance that guarantees to make her an awards season favorite. She even manages to do this while wearing pastel-colored vintage clothing and bows in her hair. This weaves into the movie’s whole aesthetic of pinky bubblegum pop with a dark and twisted core. The entire soundtrack, from Paris Hilton to Juice Newton to an orchestral version of Toxic, bops.

One thing that really stuck with me about Promising Young Woman was its ability to address sex and violence in a way that never felt gratuitous. Again, credit to Fennell, who obviously gets that you can explore these themes in a very effective way without exploiting them. The plotline that seems primed for accusations of misandry never manages to make you think that all men are bad. Just a whole lot of them. And a decent amount of women, too. There is equal opportunity for bad faith actors of all genders.

There are a few loose threads in Promising Young Woman that could unravel a lot of the film. I was too entertained to pull at any of them. Even with a super depressing and pessimistic story to tell, I finished the movie excited to have my friends watch it so we could talk about it. It demands to be discussed. In a world where we still have water coolers to gather around in an office, Promising Young Woman would be the talk of it.

You can catch Promising Young Woman in theaters, where available, on Christmas day.

About Promising Young Woman

Rating: R (Sexual Assault|Language Throughout|Drug Use|Some Sexual Material|Strong Violence)
Runtime: 1h 53m

From visionary director Emerald Fennell (Killing Eve) comes a delicious new take on revenge. Everyone said Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was a promising young woman… until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. But nothing in Cassie’s life is what it appears to be: she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs of the past in this thrilling and wildly entertaining story.

As The Bunny Hops®