Promising Young Woman

Directed By Emerald Fennell

Starring – Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie

The Plot – A young woman (Mulligan), traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who cross her path.

Rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, adult language throughout, some sexual material and drug use

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – Official Trailer [HD] – This Christmas – YouTube


– Intoxicating aesthetics. Fennell indulges us with enough candy-coated beauty and personality in the combination of set designs and cinematography that not only consistently holds our attention to the narrative, but also instills a stark contrast in personality to the movie’s gritty material. This sweet serenity of coloring pops in a three-dimensional manner that preserves the many complex shot compositions along the way to the single most beautiful presentation that I have seen in 2020, without ever settling for one consistent color that dominates the forefront of the visual pallet. Instead, it’s the sugary goodness of pink’s, red’s, and even the occasional neon influence that radiates effectively within the context of the atmosphere, and proves that Emerald very much lives up to her name in crafting enough sugary scenery that we allow to rot our teeth.

– Unapologetic material. If nothing else, “Promising Young Woman” is bravest movie that I have seen in quite sometime, in that it stitches together the facts in social commentary that offers a reflective glance, whether it fits our narrative or not. On a surface level alone, its title is a play on words towards accused rapist Brock Turner, whom was called a “Promising Young Man” by his attorney’s. As for the material itself, Fennell cuts with the sharpest knife of vengeance through the nerves of her prey, preserving enough twisted humor throughout a screenplay of interactions and experiences so bewildering that they must come from first-hand accounts. It immerses us in the shoes of the victims without leaving out a single element of the environment, the set-up, or the inevitable pay-off, only this time delights us with a streak of vengeance for Mulligan’s protagonist so vitriol that it serves as that rare occasion when the punishment nearly matches the crime, and makes this a consistently entertaining sit too daring to ever look away from.

– Unpredictable. Aside from the material reaching therapeutic levels of documentation for those put through it, the three act structure of Fennell’s debut produces no shortage of satisfying twists and savory turns for us to dig our teeth into. Because of some overly revealing trailers, I knew a little bit about what this plot was revolving around, but I didn’t know the magnitude of the betrayal, nor the elaboration of the plan by Mulligan that feels intelligently meticulous every step of the way. In fact, this feels like the rare time where a character on-screen does everything in the exact way that I would without any instance of disappointment that lacks logic or consistency within the realm of her articulation. This leads me to a riveting final act for the movie that will inevitably split audiences right down the middle in terms of what transpires, but it’s one that I applauded not only for the design of fearless direction from Fennell, but also for the roller-coaster of emotions in the movie’s final fifteen minutes that balances between satirical and sensational.

– Carey’d execution. If there were any doubts that Mulligan is one of the most brilliant actresses going today, her performance as Cassandra is one that redefines the gifted actress, expanding her emotional pallet to levels she previously never explored. Even though Cassandra’s most defining emotion is the anger that drives her motivation, it’s the control over the burning inferno from within that we competently measure as an audience that is most admirable for the character, allowing her manipulative nature to make the most in supplying a false sense of security for her opposition. She does horrible deeds, but it’s to horrible people, so the commitment in remaining by her side for 100% of the movie’s progression illustrates a character whom we candidly embrace for her unforgiving nature, and cements another star-preserving turn for Mulligan that is every bit important as she is fierce.

– Versatile soundtrack. There’s a creativity to the many familiar pop songs and ballads used in the film that not only conjures them within a thematic context in the heat of the scene they accompany, but also the artistic tweaking that renders them in exceptionally different tones than the initial artist produced. Take Britney Spears “Toxic”, a violin cover heard frequently throughout the film’s many trailers. Lyrically, this alludes to a male figure whose love the singer simply can’t resist. But in the context of the manner used in the film, it’s tweaked in a way audibly that unnerves us to the karma that’s coming for a certain character, all the while producing inevitable inspiration from the audience who will delight from its recognizable notes. In addition to this, there are some other 80’s, 90’s, and even 2000’s pop favorites that occasionally play into the abrupt tonal shifts of the movie’s personality, and illustrate a genius use of display from Fennell that plays into the warmth of the moment that unintentionally push women into the arms of those waiting.

– Smooth dialogue. This is essentially detailed throughout, but in particular between Mulligan and Burnham’s emerging relationship, which in turn solidifies the appeal between them that we insatiably devour. The lines read between them entail a certain essence of cool that never quite attains the level of artificiality by a screenwriter like Aaron Sorkin, but instead colorfully illustrates the mushy feeling in the pit of your stomach that feeds into being in love for the first time. Aside from this, the confrontations are equally entrancing, working through smooth progressions without the intention feeling too overly heavy-handed to the point it alienates a faction within the audience, nor feels repetitive from one assalent to the next. It instills enough bang for Fennell in her writing capabilities that matches, and eventually succeeds her tasty production aspects, taking us through a roller-coaster of information that materializes without the nagging exposition dumps that a majority of films can’t escape anymore.

– Social eye. The obvious is that this film is about the sexual abuse that women deal with before, during, an after an attempt on their bodies are taken, but Fennell alludes to the problem being a sociological one that explores many facets. It starts with how horny males view their female opposition, reducing them to an opportunity, instead of an equal. From there, it’s an almost ritualistic sense of traits from the predator that brings them home, gets them drunk or high, and then takes advantage of them. This is bad enough, but made even worse from the lack of legal ramifications that stem from how society views female victims as anything but, often turning a blind eye to the evidence that is right in front of them for fear of the moral stain it leaves on a university or institution. Fennell captures all of it in depth, and alludes to the idea that anyone not involved with the physical confrontation is just as guilty as those that are, bringing with it a message of conscience that renders any of this unacceptable regardless of the situation.

– What we don’t see. An aspect this ambiguous will challenge audiences in terms of a scene cutting away from the ramifications of what Cassandra unloads on her prey, but it harkens back to the old school filming mentality that what you’re not seeing is so much worse than what you would if this were an exploitative director. Instead, it’s Fennell’s intentions to refrain and speculate on what took place, following up with context clues in a victim checklist notebook and color coordination in pen ink that hints at what could’ve possibly happened with each number on the paper. It’s a clever touch that is laid out so simplistically, yet so effective in using visualization in a way that summarizes everything in the previous frame that is held together by some crisp, clean-cut editing for the transitions, and offers us an example of the methodical control by Fennell that keeps her from getting lost in the mayhem that envelopes her protagonist.

– Genre absorbing. What’s especially noticeable for someone like me, who enjoyed much of the tonal consistency maintained throughout the film, is the way its structure accommodates the many genre changes that evolve from a screenplay that is thematically all over the place in the best way possible. When the movie begins, there’s an overwhelming sense of horror that springs in both Anthony Willis’ chilling musical score, as well as the way cinematographer Benjamin Kracun uses shadows and wide angles to allude to the isolation that Cassandra exudes in a place far from comfort. From there, it’s the blossoming romance that renders an almost surreal romantic comedy caption over the focus of the film, complete with music sing-a-longs and cuddle montages that comes full circle on the script’s transformative evolution. The third act materializes into a different subgenre entirely, but to avoid spoilers I will keep it quiet for purposes of this review. The point is that “Promising Young Woman” refuses to be limited to being defined as one thing, sprawling through a barrage of genre-heavy transformations that benefits its unpredictable nature.


– General nitpicks. There’s very little that I would change about “Promising Young Woman”, but what scattered weaknesses there were takes us back to early in the second act, where a few random decisions briefly diminished my growing interest. For my money, I could’ve used more time and spontaneity for Cassandra’s motivations to materialize, particularly in the backstory to what and who she is avenging. Because we find out the grasp of the previous conflict, we are able to trace together a lot of elements from supporting characters that takes the sting of surprise away from what role they play in the foreground of the unraveling plot. In addition to this, the length of the romantic comedy section of the film took up a little too much time creatively for my preference. I understand its purpose was to show the balance and evolution to Cassandra’s character, but compared to the rest of the screenplay it’s the obvious speed bump in the fluid pacing that was continuously off the charts, and just settles things restfully until the next big thing materializes.

My Grade: 9/10 or A

4 thoughts on “Promising Young Woman

  1. You have written some strong reviews this year, this is definitely one of your best which is fitting for such a fantastic film. I love your adjectives and descriptions in almost every section. There is so much energy and passion in this critique that I’m willing to bet that this film is in your top 10 or even top 5 of the year. I’m still debating on whether it’s in my personal top 10 but it’s definitely in my top 20. Incredible review! What a note to end the year on!

  2. Man, never have I been more satisfied by a movie you have recommended. We often joke about over selling a movie, just to be disappointed, and this movie was far from that.
    Cassie’s on screen presence was so powerful, for a role that hindered her so coy and introverted. Then the stark contrast in the two faced nuance of her character breaks this film into a epic explosion of emotion and turmoil. The recollections of her past paralyzing her ability to foster any real relationships, is so true to the lives so many of us live today. Often haunted by our pasts, we shelter ourselves from being seen or hurt again.
    Then this almost psychological thriller emerges, and torpedos this slow paced drama into a full on story of revenge and heartache.
    I love how the story left you wondering where she’s left her ‘victims’, which is putting is very loosely as really she is the victim. You wonder as she checks off her list and adds another “notch in her belt”, what has happened to this long list of naysayers? How does her choice in color associate with each of her prey, what was their demise.

    My most favorite, yet most disappointed point in this movie are the very same feat, in the climatic bachelor party ending. I wanted so much for her to cast a shadow over these men one last time, as they face their untimely demise, yet the ending, far from what we are always led to expect, comes both as a shock, and a FUCK YEAH moment, as you can feel the satisfaction of her success.

    Promising Young Woman is a most recent favorite of mine and is such a testament to our social injustices.


  3. Love the review, not something I would normally pay attention to movie-wise, I may have to take a peek at it solely based on your review.

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