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‘Promising Young Woman’ Likely To Live In Your Mind Rent-Free For Months To Come – Review

“Can you guess what every woman’s worst nightmare is?” -Cassie Thomas, Promising Young Woman

Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan) was what many would refer to as a “promising young woman”. However, her life is upended by a mysterious event and she hasn’t been the same since. Her parents worry about her and want her to find the normalcy she had before, but some things are easier said than done. Cassie knows this better than anyone.

Every week, Cassie goes to a club and pretends she is too drunk to stand in an effort to see which self-professed “nice guy” will offer to help her. This is her own personal mission, to right the wrongs that happened in the past while also teaching predatory men a lesson. However, her efforts will have to be taken up a notch.

Promising Young Woman - Still
Carey Mulligan stars as “Cassandra” in director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

While working at the coffee shop owned by her friend, Gail (Laverne Cox), she encounters a familiar face from her university days, Ryan (Bo Burnham), who takes Cassie’s life in a new direction that she was never expecting. On the verge of feeling some semblance of joy again, Cassie’s new life is suddenly derailed and the events that happen proceed–well, they occur in a rapid, dramatic, and painstaking fashion that you’ll have to see to believe.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell (who can currently be seen angering fans of The Crown as Camilla), Promising Young Woman is an intricate tale of revenge, peppered with mystery and some comedic filler that hits the right spots. The subject matter can be triggering, but I expect that was part of the point. Without getting too deep into the plot, Promising Young Woman deals with a particularly tragic event experienced by a young woman in college (I’ll allow you to take a guess at just what that crime might be). The film touches upon believability, accountability, the “we were kids” or “boys will be boys” mentalities and much more in an effort to flesh out this tale of revenge.

Carey Mulligan stars as “Cassandra” in director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman (Courtesy of Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Features)

All of these pieces are integral in showing the audience the plethora of layers that must be unraveled for Cassie to speak her truth. More often than not, it is assumed that the predator be given the benefit of the doubt, while the victim is the one who has to deal with and answer to all the questions hurled their way. Promising Young Woman does an excellent job of demonstrating this. Multiple people knew what happened but when it was reported, you had instances of the dean (Connie Britton) saying that they get accusations like this all the time–and yet, nothing was done about them? Then you have old friends who say they weren’t sure or didn’t believe that it happened.

So, who can you tell and who can you truly trust when it seems as though everyone would rather sweep things under the rug instead of acknowledging what happened? Well, this is something that Fennell seeks to shed light on in Promising Young Woman and it’s no wonder that Cassie decides to take matters into her own hands. None of this would be possible without Carey Mulligan’s impressive portrayal of Cassie Thomas. Most certainly one of Mulligan’s best performances to-date, she fully committed to everything that Cassie stood for and the various journeys she went on throughout the film. From cool and calculating to vocal and vulnerable, Mulligan smartly played through each of Cassie’s character arcs and didn’t hold back a thing. I don’t think for a second that anyone else could have played Cassie better than Mulligan. It was a performance that is award-worthy in every sense of the word.

Carey Mulligan (left) stars as “Cassandra” and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (right) stars as “Neil“ in director Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. (Courtesy of Focus Features)

However, much like another fellow Christmas Day release, I do think that the performances in the film certainly help to bolster it as a whole. While this is a movie that I loved and enjoyed watching, I can see why that may not be the case for everyone. Without giving anything away, there is something that happens that is likely to leave the audience with their mouths agape. While it was something that I initially disliked, upon thinking of the film and its context, it made sense. To me, it spoke to the lengths that people (specifically men in this case) will go to protect that “bro code” and not have to hold one another accountable for simple or heinous actions. It is indeed very distressing, however, it is something that we know happens time and time again.

Whether we like it or not, not every story gets a happy ending, nor do the villains get their comeuppance. And while this isn’t okay, it is sadly a reality that also needed to be addressed. Clearly, Fennell wanted to make sure that every possibility and every outcome was explored within the film, regardless of how the audience may receive it. With a strong script and powerful performances, Promising Young Woman is exactly the kind of film that will likely live in your mind rent-free for months to come. Trust me, you won’t want to miss this one.

Promising Young Woman is in theaters December 25.

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