Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Promising Young Woman

Referring to Promising Young Woman as revenge porn may be apt, but it's also doing writer/director Emerald Fennell's devilish film a disservice. Mixing revenge, genuine dramatic underpinnings, and a dark sense of humor, the story twists and turns to squealish delight. Once promising medical student Cassie (Carey Mulligan) now lives with her parents and serves coffee at a small café. And in her spare time she targets men who take advantage of women in compromising positions.

Fennell is careful early on not to show us too much of Cassie's tactics after she's sprung her trap, allowing our imaginations to fill in the blanks about what this woman is up to as well about the reasons driving her behavior. The later is hinted at as the script drops breadcrumbs before confirming the events which led to Cassie leaving school. Cassie's more general attacks become focused as she targets those connected to medical school (Adam Brody, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, and Alfred Molina). However, her plans are complicated by her first relationship in years and a boyfriend (Bo Burnham) who causes her to question the dark turns her life has taken.

The script finds inventive ways for Cassie to seek revenge while teasing both the audience and her victims about just how far she's willing to go. We can see the early days romantic story coming, but how much time is allowed for it to develop in the middle of a revenge flick is just one of many surprises Fennell has up her sleeves. This isn't just subplot for subplot's sake as every scene in the film, including Cassie's interactions with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge), feeds the narrative. And then there's the ending. Without thinking too hard about the logistics involved, I'm not sure any film of 2020 succeeds in such a perfect exclamation point to the story we've watched unfold. Without out a doubt, Promising Young Woman is one of the best films of 2020.

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