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Promising Young Woman
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Emerald Fennell
prd Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox
with Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Alfred Molina, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, Sam Richardson, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
release US 25.Dec.20,
20/US Focus 1h53
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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There's a brightly comical vibe to this chilling, darkly pointed thriller. British writer-director Emerald Fennell is knowingly exploring the male-female power play, pointedly turning the tables on "nice guys" who take advantage of vulnerable women. The script is fiendishly clever, both funny and sometimes shocking, and the film makes its serious point while keeping the audience hugely entertained. It also features a blistering performance from Carey Mulligan.
Med school dropout Cassie (Mulligan) is a cynical 30-year-old, playing drunk and helpless in bars to entrap predatory men. She lives with her parents (Brown and Coolidge) and works in a cafe owned by her friend Gail (Cox). Then she runs into a former classmate, nice guy Ryan (Burnham), and she reluctantly agrees to have lunch with him. This triggers her to face up to her past, reconnecting with old friend Madison (Brie), the university's dean (Britton) and lawyer Jordan (Molina). Where this takes her is deeply wrenching, forcing her to make a momentous decision.
Along with the bristling righteous rage, Fennell skilfully mashes-up a romantic-comedy with a very nasty thriller. There are early hints about what drives Cassie on her mission: the personal tragedy that caused her to ditch her studies. When this comes out into the open, it's staggering on so many levels that it's hard to take in. The variety of perspectives provides striking honesty, offering fresh insight into an urgent topic. And the film certainly doesn't take an easy route.
Mulligan delivers a tour-de-force performance as a smart young woman carefully plotting revenge on people who have abandoned their principles. She's occasionally obsessive in this quest, veering toward sociopathic, but maintains sympathy because her cause is just. The question is whether she can be honest with Burnham's caring Ryan, who is understandably shaken by her behaviour. And the film's margins are packed with expert one-scene players.
This is a powerful look at situations that aren't as acceptable or forgivable as some think. "Why do you guys have to ruin everything?" Paul (Richardson) cries when he discovers Cassie isn't actually wasted. Each confrontation leads to something jarringly unexpected, and even close relationships take some shocking turns. All of this is exhilarating to watch, engaging and amusing while never letting us stop thinking about the issue at hand. There are moments when it seems the film will also say something important about revenge. But no. Instead, Fennell opts for a zinger of a final sting.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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