What appears to be a sleazy, sexploitation film at the beginning, turns out to be a revenge drama that keeps you hooked from the word go.
The film begins at a nondescript pop-fuelled party with men dancing and drinking. The camera zooms to a corner where Cassie (Carey Mulligan), not in her senses, is slumped because of an overdose of alcohol. Few guys who are drinking at the bar eye her with glee, deciding as to who would prey on her.
Cassie lands up in one of the guy’s bed and he goes all-out to take advantage of her while she is not in full, consensual control. When he inevitably gets very frisky, Cassie suddenly sits upright, fully conscious, and stumps the predator, putting an abrupt end to his fun. This sets the tone for things to follow.
As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Cassie is a medical school dropout, living with her parents, and works at a coffee shop. Her parents know that Cassie is recovering from the loss of her best friend and classmate Nina, and they think that she leads a drab life with no professional ambitions or a boyfriend, but unbeknownst to them, haunted by her past, every weekend, Cassie lands up at pubs displaying a vulnerable disposition, and she then stumps men who are out to take advantage of gullible women.
It is Cassie’s mission to go after those who are responsible for making her life an empty shell. With Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former classmate who is now a paediatric surgeon, resurfacing in Cassie’s life, the narrative swings from a sweet-romance comedy to the epic revenge fantasy it is.
Packed with satire and drawn from the anger of double standards in a society where women routinely endure indignities, Emerald Fennell, in her maiden directorial effort, explores the different ways men and women react to the same situations and events, using the by-now predictable lines, from “boys will be boys” to “she was asking for it”.
The messages in one-liners surface throughout the narrative and the screenplay is as scathing as it is smart and as wild as it can be funny. Given the serious nature of the premise, several moments bring a smile to the viewer’s face and make you cheer Cassie. On the production front, there are a lot of stylistic elements that jostle intriguingly, but they don’t necessarily cohere as a whole.
Carey Mulligan is a natural actress. As Cassie, with her unkempt blond hair and bland visage perfectly camouflaging the shrewdness of the character she plays, she reminds you of Goldie Hawn in her heyday.
She is both frightening and hilarious at the same time, displaying a range of emotions and conditions, from dead drunk to new love’s giddiness. She essays a colourful and flashy role, yet one grounded in reality and extremely vulnerable.
Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown as Cassie’s caring and supportive parents are effortless. Bo Burnham is charming. Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina and Christopher Lowell as Cassie’s former classmates, who wish she had not touched base with them, are convincing.
Also worth mentioning are Frederic Thoraval’s editing, Benjamin Kracun’s cinematography, and the various music tracks that have been seamlessly integrated into the narrative.
Overall, ‘Promising Young Woman’ is an astutely and uniquely crafted film.
–By Troy Ribeiro