Promising Young Woman
As I binge-watched this year’s Oscars (93rd Academy Awards) nominees and awardees, I was inspired to write a review on the film which received 5 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (for Carey Mulligan) and took home the Best Original Screenplay Award – Promising Young Woman. It also garnered 4 nominations at the 78th Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actress, Best Film, and Best Director. The movie also won Outstanding British Film and Best Original Screenplay and received 6 nominations at the 74th British Academy Film Awards. I was at first hesitant to share my opinion about this film because of its accolades and that I worry about the opposing opinions of the readers. However, I can’t shake it off my mind so I decided to give it a shot. Then, let me go on with my review and see how promising this movie is.
Story, Frames & Score
Promising Young Woman is a directorial debut, written, and co-produced by Emerald Fennell. The movie opens with men twerking in a club enjoying the night. At the bar, three guys are talking and spot a too-drunk-to-stand hot mess woman. One of the three guy is “too kind” to offer to take her home worried that some guy would take advantage of her. On the way, he suggests to drop by at his apartment, offers her a drink, and starts to take advantage of her intoxication. When he is about to go further, she opens her eyes and smirks at the camera. She then gets up in sobriety and asks what he is doing with her which creeps the hell out of the “nice guy”. Then the frame went black and the opening credit appears showing her on the walk of shame with red fluid dripping her feet as she walks barefooted with The Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men” playing on the background. At first glance, audience will think the red fluid is the guy’s blood but as the camera moves upwards it is actually a ketchup from the hamburger she is eating. Who will not be engrossed with the premise that the heroine is introduced as mysterious woman with multi-colored nails and hiding a notebook with guys’ name appearing as her victims? As the story continues, we see Cassie as smart, cunning woman living a secret double life by night. Nobody knows what she did to the guys and why she behaves that way. Just like Cassie’s two opposite characters, DOP Benjamin Krăcum uses high key lighting with mix candy color palette during the day to set a lighter tone but uses low lights and tight shots during the night to establish a darker tone. The parade of popular songs by Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Spice Girls and others make the film more appealing and relatable. However, the original score by Anthony Willis evokes emotion and heightens the drama especially during her breakdown on the highway and on the yard.
Characters & Performances
The story revolves around Cassie – a tormented woman with a dark past. She is a drop-out med student living with her parents despite her old age. She works at the coffee shop during the day with no ambition and no care for the world. But during the night, she dresses up in tight revealing clothes, fancy make up and stilleto pretending to be drunkard at the clubs waiting for some “nice guy” to help her out. Cassie possesses complex characters as you see her bubbly during the day, vulnerable turned sociopath during her night out, and distress during her bedtime. Carey Mulligan is in every way Cassie. With her sheer brilliance and absolute command on screen she is able to deliver a convincing performance that makes the audience so immerse with her character. She is a complete femme fatale luring men and makes them realize not to take advantage of a vulnerable woman.
Bo Burnham playing Ryan who have unrequited love for Cassie since med school gives refreshing vibe with his smiles and cheesy wooing. The supporting roles have portrayed their characters well. Emerald Fennell in her cameo role as a YouTube vlogger also blends well with the plot. Alison Brie though have limited screen time is able to showcase her talent as the sophisticated Madison who become frantic as Cassie put her in the same situation as their friend Nina was before.
Screenplay & Direction
The screenplay is darkly bold and fresh. The story was divided into four chapters and a prologue. The prologue introduces the audience with the life of Cassie during the day and during the night. At first, there are no explanations of her behavior and no facts were provided to explain what happened to the guys Cassie “hook up” with. After quite sometime, the fragmented backstories of Cassie’s friend – Nina were presented shedding light to Cassie’s uncanny behavior. It turns out that Nina is the reason why Cassie is behaving that way. I consider Nina as one important character in the movie. Though we do not see her as there is no flashback presented. We only see her in photos that Cassie is staring at every night. We hear her name frequently as Cassie had not forgotten her. But her memories played a major role on the life of Cassie. She was penned as a character or a memory that we also feel the despair of losing a friend as if we know her too. The potential crime thriller as I thought it would be turns out to be a revenge plot for the perpetrators of Nina. On Chapter One Cassie targets Madison who had spread ill-words about Nina. After inflicting devastating psychological pain to Madison she is up to the second target. On Chapter Two she confronted the Dean of the med school who then favored the perpetrator because of his good academic standing. She then set to her third target, the lawyer who staged a scandal against Nina to make her a hooker thereby losing credibility in court on Chapter Three. Satisfied with her revenge she accepted Ryan’s love and lives happily with him. But when she learned of the horrible truth about what happened to Nina, she completely tossed herself out and orchestrates her last revenge to Al – the culprit. Then at the last Chapter, Cassie on her multi-colored wig, red stilleto, and nurse uniform as she walks along with Britney Spear’s Toxic song is literally on fire. The turn of events is so shocking and I was like “ that’s so unfair!!!”……. I was so so furious about how she ended up. And before I could totally be so exasperated, the movie diverted to an unbelievable conclusion leaving me with a sense of satisfaction. It was a bloody brilliant screenwriting I should say. The narrative throws unexpected revelations here and there that caught me off guard especially the climax. The meticulous direction delivers a roller coaster ride of emotions that would leave the audience emotionally distraught. The film was shot for only 23 days but Emerald Fennell was able to bring out the best of Carey Mulligan in her rendition of a twisted, and bitchy woman shattered with a traumatic past. Fennell was able to wrap up a funny, refreshing and emotionally shattering story with a bittersweet conclusion.
Just like every movie, it is not without flaws. I particularly would like to point out that Chapter three should be given more time for the emotional scene to escalate. It was a bit rushed where it could be a great opportunity for the emotional arc of Cassie to unfold or it could have explained clearly what happened with Nina. I also felt that the audience deserve to know what caused Nina’s death. Did she fell into great depression and get sick or did she commit suicide? Those were not tackled in the film.
Promising young woman presents harsh and shocking reality presented exquisitely yet in thought-provoking manner. As most cases of rape and sexual assault wherein the victim becomes the perpetrator and the perpetrator becomes the victim, the movie did not shy away blaming the system in protecting the accused. The film did not point finger to men as generally delinquents but the society that mainstream woman putting their own self to danger by the way she act, talk, dress, or intoxicate. We are living in a society where when a woman was raped in a dark alley, people would comment why is she walking alone in that dark alley at night? When a school girl was gang rape in a party people would blame her of partying with boys as if the girl is wishing to be raped. When a girl is wearing short shirts it is like is inviting harm towards herself. Are the perpetrators only to be blamed here? As the movie shows on Chapter one, the gossipers are inflicting much pain to the victims as much as the abuser. The very reason why many victims do not surface is that they are afraid to be condemned by the society. The Dean representing the society that favors the accused especially if they are privileged, wealthy, intelligent, and belonging to an influential family is a culprit too. The lawyer representing the unfair justice system have the power to turn events upside down leaving the victim more shattered than ever. Lastly Ryan, why? He didn’t do a thing? Exactly, that’s his crime, he is just a bystander where in fact he could tell the truth so that justice will be served. Instead, he did nothing and justify that they are young kids that time and that he don’t want to be in any trouble. The film is not just your average revenge plot movie, it is a shocker, an eye opener, an audacious film about horrid effects of sexual abuse to victim’s family.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.