There has been a lot of buzz around Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut, Promising Young Woman, ahead of its UK release today, and it’s not hard to see why.
Emerald pulls absolutely no punches in the chilling comedy thriller, which took home the best British film gong at last weekend’s Baftas, and has been tipped to win big at the upcoming Oscars.
Carey Mulligan shines in the ‘revenge’ flick, alongside an all-star cast including Laverne Cox, Alison Brie and Bo Burnham. She plays medical school drop-out Cassie, who still lives at home with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) and works at a coffee shop by day.
We first meet Cassie as she appears belligerently drunk at a nightclub, and barely able to form a sentence to Jerry (Adam Brody), who approaches her to safely take her home – we think. As he pours her into a cab, despite the fact she seems very close to vomiting, he suggests they go back to his house where he loads her up on ‘kumquat liquor’.
It’s here, within the first few minutes of the film, where we’re given the first glimpse at her plan to bring these predators to her own kind of justice as she confronts them with the reality of their actions, and Carey is truly chilling in the way she ‘flips’ between apparently out-of-control to icily sober and dominant. Her motivation behind this is soon apparent – she’s desperate to avenge the memory of her best friend, Nina, who took her own life after a sexual assault at college.
We’re shown just how much her best friend’s death has impacted Cassie when she visits Nina’s mum to reminisce about old times, with her guilt at the situation palpable years on. In a heartbreaking scene, she is urged to ‘let it go’ and live her own life in the present instead of in Nina’s past, but does she listen?
Carey Mulligan shines as Cassie in Promising Young Woman (Picture: Focus Features)
Promising Young Woman won big at the Baftas recently (Picture: Focus Features)
The casting is excellent – a lot has rightly been said about Carey as the justice-driven Cassie, who is still grieving for her best friend. The minor male characters are also eerily perfect, a collection of the biggest ‘nice guys’ on the big and small screen shedding their former wholesome roles to further prove that anyone can be a predator. Adam Brody is about as far from The OC’s Seth Cohen as you could get, while Christopher Mintz Plasse plays a drugged-out, creepy hipster to a complete tee.
The violence is expertly matched by a female-heavy soundtrack of Charli XCX’s Boys, It’s Raining Men and a haunting instrumental version of Britney Spears’ Toxic, as well as a colourful aesthetic of pastel, pink and prints – with a particularly memorable sequence of Cassie and love interest Ryan (Bo) dancing through the aisles of a pharmacy to Paris Hilton’s banger Stars Are Blind, before you’re hit once more with the reality of her motive.
It’s not a perfect film by any means, there are twists and turns galore, some predictable and some definitely not – and an ending that may not sit right with everyone. Critics have raised understandable questions about Cassie and the privilege she is afforded in life, which has been glossed over by the filmmakers. Some of her actions may make you feel a little uncomfortable over just how far she is willing to go in her quest for revenge.
Promising Young Woman isn’t an easy film to watch and it shouldn’t be, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the most important movie releases in years. Emerald’s masterpiece has introduced the topic of consent into the mainstream in an honest, refreshing way, which will hopefully spark much-needed conversations.