Film Review: Promising Young Woman

STUDIO: Focus Features | DIRECTOR: Emerald Fennell | CAST: Carey Mulligan, Adam Brody, Ray Nicholson, Sam Richardson, Clancy Brown
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 25, 2020
SPECS: R | 117 min. | Thriller

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2

A revenge thriller for the #MeToo era, Promising Young Woman hits the proper notes that could have translated into a hit film if moviegoing was in its normal state. It’s a little Fatal Attraction, a little Gone Girl, featuring a tour de force performance by Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis)  as one of the nastiest femme fatales we’ve seen in a while.

Carey Mulligan is a Promising Young Woman

Mulligan is Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old medical school dropout who seems to be wasting her life away, living at home with her parents (Highlander‘s Clancy Brown and Austenland’s Jennifer Coolidge) and working as a barista at a coffee shop. Her life appears mundane until we learn that at night she dresses up and frequents bars where she acts like she’s drunk in order to get picked up by guys looking for a one-night stand. As things begin to get steamy between Cassie and her temporary bedmates, she turns the tide on them, baffling, embarrassing and threatening them in order to teach them a lesson.

But why? As the story unfolds the various characters introduced fill in the puzzle that is Cassie’s unpredictable behavior. Among them are former med school classmates, including a pediatric surgeon (Bo Burnham, The Big Sick) who takes a liking to her; a lawyer from her past (Alfred Molina, The Front Runner); and a school official (Connie Britton, Bombshell).

The first big screen effort from Killing Eve writer and showrunner Emerald Fennell (who can be seen acting as Camilla Parker Bowles in the latest season of The Crown) is impressive for a number of reasons. Stylish direction, an edgy screenplay with tension and satiric touches and exemplary acting across the board are just some of the first-rate elements sure to garner attention, with Mulligan’s sexy, scary and disturbed and disturbing turn a strong contender for a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Promising Young Woman is also bolstered by attention-getting grab bag of musical selections from Anthony Willis’s string-heavy, a Bernard Herrmann-esque score and a unusual cover versions of such numbers as “It’s Raining Men,” “He Hit Me” and “Angel in the Morning.”

On the minus side, Promising Young Woman has some frustrating gaps in its logic, which strain credulity at times.  Still, the film hits most of its targets impressively and has potential to be a don’t-miss movie of the waning days of 2020 and early 2021, wherever or however people decide to go to not miss it.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.