“Promising Young Woman” packs a powerful punch.
Writer/director Emerald Fennell in her feature film debut has crafted a thriller with commercial appeal, but when you start picking away at the fabric it is much, much more. It is an examination of the #MeToo movement anchored by a knockout performance from Carey Mulligan.
It is the best film of 2020.
Mulligan plays Cassie, a young woman who still lives at home and works at a coffee shop – trying to get over a traumatic event involving her childhood friend Nina that caused her to drop out of medical school.
That event has led Cassie to be a vigilante of sorts – going to clubs once a week pretending to be so drunk that she is the easy target for would-be predators. Only when they take her home, she turns the tables on these men – giving them a lesson on consent and taking advantage of vulnerable women.
When Cassie has a chance meeting with former medical school classmate Ryan (Bo Burnham), she seems content with putting the past behind her and starting anew.
That is until the person involved in the traumatic incident comes back to town, sending Cassie spiraling back into revenge mode – willing to do anything to avenge her friend.
Fennell, the showrunner and executive producer for the TV series “Killing Eve,” has both a keen eye as a director and the ability to create sizzling dialogue. This film signals the arrival of a major voice.
Some will surely argue that the final act ultimately is a little too neat and tidy, but I think it gives the film a hefty final kick that really brings it all together.
While Fennell has provided the material, it’s Mulligan who makes it all work. The 35-year-old actress has built a quality resume since her breakout Oscar-nominated role in “An Education,” but this could well be the best work of her career.
Mulligan is fierce – full of rage and sadness, a woman willing to do whatever it takes to find justice for her friend. Whether it is confronting people responsible for the traumatic event – and eventual coverup – to her willingness to let her guard down and begin a romance with Ryan, this is a performance with so many nuances. Mulligan finds a way to hit every note the performance requires and make Cassie a compelling subject.
She really gets the audience invested in what Cassie will do next, providing that edge of your seat anxiousness that makes “Promising Young Woman” a compelling thriller – and so much more.