Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman Film Review

Directed by: Emerald Fennell

Written by: Emerald Fennell

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Alfred Molina

The prey becomes the predator in the debut feature from Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman. Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie, a 30-year-old barista, who by night goes out to clubs, pretends to be hammered drunk, only to be picked up by an ‘opportunistic’ male. When they get her back to their bedroom, she reveals that she is sober, and then the fun really starts. The opening few scenes of Fennell’s film certainly point to the horror genre, a feeling helped most significantly by Anthony Willis’ score. We are not sure what Cassie has done with her prey. We cut to her walking down the street eating a giant hotdog, ketchup pouring down her forearm, very symbolic indeed.

However, in a film where Fennell is constantly pulling the rug from underneath her audience’s feet, the film settles into a drama. Cassie, as mentioned before, is 30 and directionless. She lives at home with her worried parents. She forgets her birthday. Her sense of detachment stems from a past trauma which cannot be revealed here, but suffice it to say it is linked to Cassie’s late night, vigilante crusade against the male of the species. Fennell’s raison d’etre is very noble. It is to highlight the imbalance of power between men and women, especially when it comes to consent. An imbalance that is trying to be rectified over the past several years through the #metoo movement. The film is particularly eloquent on the point that it is usually the male that gets the protection when it comes down to a ‘he said, she said’ scenario. A scene between Cassie and her former college Dean, played by Connie Britton, is a particular highlight. Her deconstruction of frat boy culture and the systems that protect such a toxic subculture is very clever. So much so that you would think casting Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Stifler’s Mom in the American Pie’s, as Cassie’s mom is very intentional. However, the most eye-opening film about this particular American subculture remains Andrew Neel’s Goat (2016). 

It is quite hard to review this film from a male perspective. From any perspective Promising Young Woman is a stylish film, from it’s bright colour palette of pinks, yellows, and blues to it’s pop soundtrack that features a cover of ‘It’s Raining Men’ by DeathByRomy as a stand-out. Cassie’s character is something that is not as certain. She is 90% badass, 10% vulnerable girl who would like to be asked to the prom. It’s like if The Bride listened to Miley Cyrus. She says at one point she could have ‘the job, the husband, the kids, the yoga class’ in ten minutes, but ‘she doesn’t want it’. You only half believe her. This is mostly because of the introduction of a love interest, Ryan (Burnham). With this, Promising Young Woman descends into a romantic comedy of sorts and Cassie loses her edge somewhat. 

To be fair to Fennell, the relationship becomes another device to serve her feminist message. How this is done, is again going too far to say as the impact of Fennell’s film relies on her audience getting comfortable in the groove of what they think they are watching. The ending of the film will be the cause of many debates. There is a Cruel Intentions (1999) style comeuppance, but at what cost? Promising Young Woman aims for satire, but on many occasions becomes what it is trying to discredit.