Promising Young Woman (2020)
Promising Young Woman (2020)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 53 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Emerald Fennell Actors: Carey Mulligan, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Bo Burnham, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Chris Lowell, Alfred Molina

 


 

“T

hey put themselves in danger, girls like that.” As Jerry (Adam Brody), Jim (Ray Nicholson), and Paul (Sam Richardson) talk shop in a club, they notice Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) drunkenly writhing alone in an isolated corner on red leather seating, revealing shapely legs beneath a short skirt. When she can’t find her phone, Jerry approaches her, offering to drive her home. Of course, he has ulterior motives; she’s too inebriated to make prudent decisions, so he has the driver change their destination to his apartment, where he can fix her another drink, kiss her on his couch, and lead her to the bedroom. But it’s all a ruse – once he’s slipped off her underwear, she suddenly reveals that she’s completely sober and in total control of her faculties.

Cassie’s day job at Make Me Coffee doesn’t provide much interest, but it also doesn’t require much effort – or customer service skills, since her boss Gail (Laverne Cox) allows her to ignore customary practices, such as not spitting in the coffee. It does, however, give her opportunities to hunt for new victims – would-be rapists – every week, whose names end up in a small notebook after something unseen but potentially terrible happens to them (this is a point of great consternation since the specifics are left ambiguous, the effectiveness is literally shown [later on] to be inadequate, and the consequences or repercussions are utterly overlooked). As she arranges for her next target, a “nice guy” named Neil (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Cassie also has time to entertain the notion of going on a real, normal date with former classmate and current pediatric surgeon Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham). But psychological issues abound, particularly as the 30-year-old still lives at home with her disappointed parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge) and exhibits zero interest in moving upwards with her life. Her living situation is yet another clumsy component of the film, as Cassie’s parents are fully aware of their daughter’s mental state, which makes their disapproval overwhelmingly unconvincing and downright inappropriate.

As Cassandra goes about collecting names in vigilante fashion, the film harbors a horror movie vibe, particularly as it remains a notable unknown concerning just how far she’ll go in her various episodes of teaching men lessons. At the same time, as a relationship develops with Ryan, a romantic comedy premise takes hold, complete with the standard ups and downs, quirky flirting, and uncomfortable verbal missteps. And there’s also a mystery, involving not only what initiated her vengeful missions but also how exactly her plans will become more elaborate and complete – chiefly when Roman numerals flash across the screen, associated with additional names in Cassie’s notebook.

“No use hiding from the piper. He has to be paid.” The setup is engaging and the subject matter topical, while the performances are top-notch, including a number of brief but potent supporting turns. Plus, the escalation in tension is keenly aided by an enthusiastic soundtrack. But there’s also something off, something a little too unbelievable in this revenge fantasy – the responsibility falling somewhere within Cassie’s incredible collection of associates, her unconcerned and legally inconsequential walk along the line of lawlessness, and the many overly coincidental interactions. The evidential notes also don’t quite add up, some of which are a touch too blaring to be easily dismissed.

Fortunately, the longer Cassie is onscreen, the more fascinating her character gets, even if her authenticity correspondingly wanes. Her ability to be calculated and purposefully sociopathic one moment and charmingly ordinary at others borders on uncanny, almost as if she has superhero training and resources. A few revelations are exceptional, but the stylization of several sequences and the nerve-wracking climax tend to further diminish the realism – as well as the cautionary-tale significance or the eye-opening moral examinations. The central courtship is also hugely problematic (generating massive plot holes) due to their shared history. It might have all worked better as a forthright satire (some of the humor is obvious, yet morbid chuckles are often favored over genuine satisfaction), or if the unpredictable finale didn’t feel as if a rickety plan found accidental prosperity (of sorts).

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10