Friday, February 11, 2022

Promising Young Woman


Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman is the story of a woman who goes on a quest vengeance against men due to a traumatic event that saw another woman be raped and humiliated years ago. The film is a revenge story of sorts but also a character study as it explores a woman who had a lot of promise in her life as she struggles with an incident that affected her as she struggles to forgive but also what happened to her friend many years ago. Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Laverne Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell, and Connie Britton. Promising Young Woman is an eerie yet visceral film from Emerald Fennell.

The film follows the exploits of a 30-year old woman who chooses to go after predatory men by pretending to be drunk and then make them uncomfortable as a form of vengeance to cope with the loss of her best friend years ago who had been raped and later humiliated in court that led to her suicide. It is a revenge film of sorts as it plays into this woman who saw her friend in that ordeal as they were both med school students at the time but incident lead both of them to drop out of med school as this woman works at a coffee shop by day and then go after men at night. Emerald Fennell’s screenplay is really a study of its protagonist Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) who was once a promising med school student who had all of the potential to become a doctor but the rape, humiliation, and eventual suicide of her longtime childhood friend Nina destroyed that dream. For Cassie, the need to play a drunken woman to go after predatory men is a way to cope with her loss though the presence of a former classmate in Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham) who goes to her coffee shop has her thinking about life for herself.

The first act is about Cassie and the life that she leads where she still lives with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge) who are unaware of what she does at night while also being courted by Ryan who is a pediatrician as he wonders why Cassie never finished med school. When Ryan makes mention that he’s been invited to the wedding of a former classmate in Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), the man that raped and humiliated Nina. The film’s second act revolves around this act of vengeance for Cassie on those who failed Nina as well as did dirty work for Al as it also play into this growing relationship with Ryan who wants to show her the good things in life unaware of the things Cassie does except on one night where he questions her actions. Fennell’s script is filled with these complexities but also the air of indifference about the rape of a young woman as some want to claim it’s a bunch of he-said, she-said thing when the reality is far more complicated. Even as Cassie would learn more about what happened on that night in the film’s third act.

Fennell’s direction does bear some style in its presentation with its emphasis on vibrant colors being present as backdrops yet much of her ideas in terms of the compositions are straightforward. Shot on location in and around Los Angeles, Fennell opens the film with three guys in a club talking about women as they see a supposedly drunken Cassie who is out of her mind where she accidentally shows her panties where a guy decides to bring her home. It is a sequence that sets the tone as it introduces the kind of woman Cassie is as well as the world she’s in where it is complicated where men are trying to be careful while women either portray themselves as victims or will do things to keep men down. Fennell’s usage of the wide and medium shots not only add a lot of scope into that world such as the home where Cassie lives with her parents or the coffee shop in its interior but also in some of the clubs she goes to.

Fennell also uses close-ups and long shots to play into some of the dramatic tension whether it has Cassie confronting an old friend or having her play a role to get what she wants. Fennell’s approach to the suspense is low-key in the way she builds up tension as if something violent could happen yet it would be typical for a revenge film to have some idea of violence. Fortunately, Fennell aims for minimal violence in just two scenes as one play into a moment where some guy annoys Cassie and the other is in the film’s climax in its third act. The third act isn’t just about these revelations that Cassie learned about the night of Nina’s rape but also who was there as it leads her to this big event where Al is present. It would be followed by an aftermath that do play into this idea of history repeating itself but its ending isn’t just this massive gut-punch that Fennell creates. It is more about a woman trying to bring justice for the friend she lost but also the loss of her own identity. Overall, Fennell crafts a haunting yet darkly-comical film about a woman going on a path of revenge for her late friend.

Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography from the usage of natural lighting for the daytime interior/exterior scenes including some low-key lighting in a few rooms to the usage of stylish colors for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Frederic Thoraval does excellent work with the editing as does have some elements of style in the jump-cuts but also being straightforward in making sure shots linger to establish a moment in the film. Production designer Michael T. Perry, with set decorator Rae Deslich and art director Liz Kloczkowski, does amazing work with the look of the coffee shop in its interiors as well as a few places Cassie goes to as well as her family home.

Costume designer Nancy Steiner does fantastic work with the clothes that Cassie wears as it ranges from stylish to just casual as it adds to her offbeat personality. Sound editor Frederic Dubois does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere of some of the parties as well as the way sparse objects sound as it help add to the film’s offbeat tone. The film’s music by Anthony Willis is wonderful for its eerie orchestral score that include some themes that play into the drama along with bits that play into the film’s dark humor while music supervisor Susan Jacobs cultivates a music soundtrack that ranges from pop, electronic, indie, and classical with contributions from Juice Newton, Charli XCX, Maya B, the Spice Girls, DeathbyRomy, Cyn, MUNA, Donna Missal, Jacqueline Taieb, Carmen DeLeon, Lily & Madeleine, Richard Wagner, Sky Ferreira, Lionel Richie, Fletcher, BLESSUS, Kitty White, a string-based version of Britney Spears’ Toxic, Renni Rucci, and Paris Hilton for a touching and light-hearted scene involving Cassie and Ryan.

The casting by Lindsay Graham Ahanonu and Mary Vernieu is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Emerald Fennell as a YouTuber who makes an instructional video on blow job lips, Steve Monroe as a police detective late in the film, Francisca Estevez as a high school student that Cassie uses for a blackmailing scheme, Molly Shannon as Nina’s mother in a lone scene where she tells Cassie to move on, Adam Brody as a guy named Jerry who takes Cassie to his place in the film’s opening sequence, Sam Richardson as Jerry’s friend Paul who would also meet Cassie only to realize something is off, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a guy named Neil who tries to get her to do drugs and sleep with him only to put himself into trouble as he begs Cassie to not do anything, Max Greenfield as Al’s friend Joe who is the embodiment of a fucking douche, and Alfred Molina in an un-credited yet superb performance as Al’s former attorney Jordan Green as a man who admitted to what he did to Nina as he is filled with a lot of regrets over his actions.

Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are excellent in their respective roles as Cassie’s parents in Stanley and Susan Thomas as the former is a man that prefers to not to say anything about what Cassie does while the latter is more concerned with trying to get Cassie back on board as she often tries to dodge questions to friends about Cassie. Laverne Cox is fantastic as Cassie’s boss Gail who often asks questions about Cassie’s life and feelings about men while also being someone who is funny and keeps Cassie around because she’s good at her job. Alison Brie is brilliant as a former classmate of Cassie in Madison as a successful woman who prefers not to talk about what happened to Nina thinking that no one should care until Cassie does something to her that would become key in the film’s third act. Connie Britton is amazing as the medical school dean in Walker as someone who was indifferent to the report about Nina as she is forced to deal with what Cassie is doing to her through means of blackmail.

Chris Lowell is incredible as Al Monroe as the man who raped Nina years ago and got away with it as he is about to be married as he is present at his own bachelor party where he meets Cassie unaware of her identity and why she wants to meet him. Bo Burnham is remarkable as Ryan Cooper as a former classmate of Cassie, who is now a pediatrician, who befriends her and tries to show her the good sides of life as he would fall for her as he is this idea of someone that is a good guy but also has some secrets of his own that he doesn’t want to share. Finally, there’s Carey Mulligan in a tremendous performance as Cassie Thomas as a former med student with so much promise to become a doctor only for the loss of her best friend to change all of that where Mulligan brings a lot of wit to her performance as someone that is willing to put men into her place as well as being someone that is also guarded. It is a performance that has Mulligan also slowly displaying her vulnerability but at its most restrained as well as showcase the struggle of wanting revenge but also showing forgiveness.

Promising Young Woman is a spectacular film from Emerald Fennell that features a career-defining performance from Carey Mulligan. Along with its supporting cast, colorful visuals, an offbeat music soundtrack, and its study of loss, vengeance, and forgiveness. It is a film that explores a woman’s journey to bring justice over not just the friend she lost but also her own identity that she lost as well while trying to see if she can find forgiveness and a new life for herself in a toxic environment. In the end, Promising Young Woman is a sensational film from Emerald Fennell.

© thevoid99 2022


SJHoneywell said...

Right now, this is what I think is the best film from 2020. There's a chance that will change, of course, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

Brittani Burnham said...

Carey Mulligan was very good in this, but I had issues with it as a whole. Princess Weekes has a great youtube video talking about this that really summed up my thoughts on it.

thevoid99 said...

@SJHoneywell-It's in my top 5 right now though it is likely to change as I'm catching up on 2020 releases.

@Brittani-I understand where people are coming from as it relates to the ending and themes although I liked the way it ended though I wish a few of the characters were able to be redeemed and others to just get fucked in the ass for good. The film is a reminder of why I never go out and don't have much of a social life.

Ruth said...

I LOVE Carey Mulligan here and on the whole I appreciate what the film is trying to say, but like Brittani, I also have issues with the ending in regards to Carey's character. It was really heard to watch THAT scene.

thevoid99 said...

@Ruth-Yeah, I can see where you and Brittani were coming from as I was hoping for something more conventional but this is not a conventional film. I would've loved for deux ex machina (or whatever it's called) and go after everyone who did bad things. I would've loved for Carey to go Ahnold on these motherfuckers ala Commando but that's not what we get. Still, I liked what did happen in the end.