Men are fucking trash. Period.
One of the benefits of following as many movie-themed social media accounts as I do is that you constantly remain on the pulse of the most buzzed-about movies. Over the last couple of weeks the one movie that everyone has been talking and posting about is Promising Young Woman (2020). In everything from direction, to writing, to performances, I’ve heard nothing but praise for this movie so I was so excited to finally check it out for myself. I mean, the premise alone had me hooked. A woman taking revenge on the despicable men who harmed her best friend? Mama, I’m buying a ticket to that show every day of the damn week.
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman tells the story of Cassie Thomas, a young woman who sets out to avenge her best best friend and classmate Nina, who was a victim of rape. After the school and legal systems failed to bring those responsible to justice, Cassie decides to take vengeance into her own hands.
This is a stunning directorial debut from Fennell. Promising Young Woman is one Hell of a ride that will throw you for one heart-pounding loop after another. When I saw that shot of jam dripping down Cassie’s arm during the opening credits I was CERTAIN it was blood. Instead it was a clever fakeout from Fennell, a recurring theme in a movie that is as sensational as it is important. There are a few times where Fennell brilliantly pulls the rug out from under the viewers and each time it had my jaw on the floor. From start to finish this movie will keep you guessing. Even when I thought I knew where it was going, it always managed to add a new twist or layer to the story and its characters, making for one of the most engaging and satisfying movie-watching experiences I’ve had in months. It held my interest from the minute it started until the very last scene. Fennell’s direction is cool and sleek, reminding me of other exceptionally gripping movies with unscrupulous lead characters like, Hustlers (2019) or The Social Network (2010). By the way, check out my reviews for those movies, here and here.
Fennell’s script is phenomenal. Though a wholly original story, it at times feels like it subconsciously borrows elements from the crimes of Jack the Ripper or “The Count of Monte Cristo,” putting a modern spin on those tales. The story moves along at a lightning pace, buzzing with electricity with each new twist and turn. Watching Cassie reinvent herself each night through a simple change of hair and makeup, ready to take down the dirtbag men who are only too ready to take advantage of vulnerable women, is exhilarating to witness. The way Promising Young Woman is written feels like it must have been very cathartic for Fennell. A way to let out all the aggressions, both big and small, that every woman has undoubtedly felt or experienced when dealing with the terrible people who commit, or would defend those who commit such atrocities. Unfortunately, this story is as timely as ever in the way that it defends the guilty men while damning the assaulted women. Ridiculously tired excuses like, “she shouldn’t have been drinking” and, “we have to give these boys the benefit of the doubt,” are thrown around unironically by deplorable characters who truly believe it. Thankfully, the revenge-filled final act will have you on the edge off your seat with bated breath. If you’ve spent the entire movie living for the tactful way Cassie dishes out retribution to those complicit in the crimes against Nina, this finale is the satisfying culmination of her compelling crusade. It’s an excellent ending.
The cast of Promising Young Woman is full of reliably charming and versatile actors like, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, and Molly Shannon. I love when each of these actors (and the handful of other phenomenal side characters) show up in things. Hell yes I love seeing Laverne Cox as a bubbly barista! Of course I want to see Alfred Molina acting his butt off! Everyone in these smaller roles, though their time onscreen is brief, knock it out of the park and successfully sell each of their characters. Everyone in Promising Young Woman feels real and fleshed out, a fine achievement by one of the best casts of the year. Oh and by the way, seeing Coolidge as a grounded brunette mother? That one threw me for a loop.
Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie and holy shit you guys, what a powerhouse performance. This is a wonderfully meaty role for Mulligan, one that shows off her versatility as an actress. Cassie is constantly reinventing herself and Mulligan juggles the many layers of the character with ease. To watch her slip into yet another of Cassie’s personas is captivating as you know it’s only going to be more unpredictable than the last time she reinvented herself. The character of Cassie is a live wire. Intense and unpredictable, God knows I’d be terrified to be alone in a room with her. It’s unnerving how cool under pressure she is and how she always seems to be six steps ahead of everyone else. She’s like a fucking superhero. I’d have no problem believing you if you’d told me Promising Young Woman was adapted from a graphic novel. She’s a woman on a mission, an anti-heroine born from tragedy and if you’re not rooting for her every step of the way, there’s something wrong with you. Cassie is certainly no angel, but watching her take down the guilty is bewitching to watch. Of course, you also get to see the softer side of Cassie as well as her thirst for vengeance. You see how much she loved and cared about Nina and how much she’d like to be with Ryan, her love interest. What a complex character to write, made all the more interesting by Mulligan’s gripping performance. Cassie Thomas is certainly a character that is going to be remembered and Mulligan is a certain to pick up a nomination for a Best Actress Oscar.
I’m enraged at all the deplorably evil people in this movie. And what’s so horrible is that these aren’t supervillains. They’re everyday people walking among us. People who claim to be the nice guy, or the good wife, or just as noble as anyone else. Thankfully the movie has one clear message for anyone who would dare attempt to make excuses for their terrible actions: One way or another you’ll get your comeuppance.
Promising Young Woman is an outstanding story with masterful direction and brilliant performances. It’s a movie that will stick with you for weeks to come. Oh, and finally, let me just say this: I don’t own albums or a record player but if I did, I would absolutely buy this soundtrack to play on vinyl. Starting the movie with a remix of “Boys” by Charli XCX? Then a cover of “It’s Raining Men?” Ending the movie with “Angel of the Morning?” Playing Paris Hilton’s ICONIC bop “Stars Are Blind” during a love montage? I’m so here for all of this!! The soundtrack throughout is haunting and otherworldly and I absolutely loved every minute of it. Look, if you include an all-strings arrangement of “Toxic” in your movie, I’m guaranteed to sing your praises.
Have you seen Promising Young Woman?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!