Promising Young Woman review: sneering, winking provocation of a movie

When Britney Spears sang “A guy like you should wear a warning” in her 2003 banger “Toxic,” the track looked like a winking nod to a particular sort of recklessness that typically goes together with the hedonistic ecstasy of actually, actually liking somebody. Digging much deeper into the “Toxic” lyrics, it’s clear that thus lots of pop tunes from the early ’00s, it exists in the fuzzy lines in between love and fixation, and in between rejection and approval. Fitting, then, that the tune about a “poison paradise” plays such a critical function in Emerald Fennell’s poisonous Promising Girl.

A vengeance tale that utilizes untidy vigor to take on how sexual attack is gone over, evaluated, and dismissed by an exceptionally patriarchal American society, Promising Girl is developed as a justification. As the appropriately called Cassandra, Carey Mulligan, in perhaps the greatest efficiency of her profession, lobs this incendiary Bomb with a wink and a sneer.

Production designer Michael Perry brings to life a world of adult play grounds — clubs, bars, bachelor celebrations — where harmful masculinity is enabled to prosper, while outfit designer Nancy Steiner thinks of the womanly attire to counter these areas. (Don’t be amazed to see a variety of candy-striper outfits motivated by this movie at Halloween events in 2021, if we’re back to events at that point.) The vibrantly rendered information and Mulligan’s full-throated efficiency accent a movie that eventually may not be as groundbreaking as Fennell believes it is concerning gender functions and heterosexual characteristics. However there’s an indisputable fulfillment to her brutish technique.

Carey Mulligan hangs off Samuel Richardson’s neck outside a bar in Promising Young Woman

Image: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Functions

Promising Girl starts with a slurred “Fuck her,” and every subsequent minute of the movie unloads, then attacks, the casual misogyny that results in such an off-the-cuff termination. A trio of brothers grumble about a female colleague and how they can’t go to strip clubs any longer since of her whining. Then they zero in on a female in problem. She can’t stay up directly. Her clothing are raising. She can’t string a sentence together. “They put themselves in danger, girls like that,” they state, and the ambiance is very first feigned issue, then wolfish chance.

However Cassandra (Mulligan) isn’t a victim in the awaited methods. She can look after herself. Every Friday night, she places on a various attire (often exposing, often not), does her makeup (often smeared, often not), and goes to a various club or bar or dining establishment, where she carries out the function of a damsel in distress, and awaits males callous or predatory adequate to take the bait. Her vigilante objective has actually been going on for several years — considering that she left of medical school, returned house, and took a job at a cafe. The abrupt modification is a secret to almost everybody. Her moms and dads don’t comprehend why their child, when at the top of her class, is now back in her youth bed room at thirty years old. Her old schoolmates have actually primarily forgotten her. Even Gail (Laverne Cox), Cassandra’s manager at the cafe and her only pal, doesn’t comprehend what she’s doing with her life.

As Promising Girl gradually deciphers Cassandra’s inspirations and assisting concepts, Fennell’s script strikes an anxious balance. On the one hand, a few of the movie’s most rewarding minutes likewise count on the most low-hanging-fruit conceits, like the method Cassandra unnerves a group of catcallers by stopping and gazing at them, her quiet judgment enough to turn their proposals into jeers. Or Mulligan’s voice dropping an octave lower when she devitalizes a movie brother who patronizes her by stating males don’t like when ladies use excessive makeup. (“This whole soul-sucking system meant to oppress women is fucked up,” states the man attempting to press her into bed.) Or how Cassandra spits in a dismissive consumer’s beverage, then serves it to him with a smile.

Those circumstances aren’t precisely nuanced, however Fennell offers a voice to the exasperation of being dealt with simply, and just, like a sexual item, and Mulligan lives and breathes that rage. (Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town enters your mind more than when throughout Cassandra’s memories of her medical-school experience.) A lot of Promising Girl is a dream in reaction to socially caused powerlessness, and when those minutes struck, they struck hard.

Carey Mulligan in a library, sucking on a stripey straw and reading a book titled “Careful How You Go” in Promising Young Woman

Photo: Focus Features

Mulligan is the tornado at the center of this film, and her performance combines so many qualities already mastered in her other work: her stillness as Irene in Drive, her girlish innocence as Jenny in An Education, her fearlessness as Sissy in Shame, and her desperation as Jeanette in Wildlife. Mulligan sparks against everyone in the deep supporting cast, which includes many actors doing the most with their screen time: Clancy Brown as Cassandra’s concerned father, Bo Burnham as her pediatric-surgeon love interest, Cox as Cassandra’s gently chiding boss and friend, and Alfred Molina doing his best impression of Tom Wilkinson from Michael Clayton.

And there’s a subversiveness to Fennell’s casting of former internet boyfriends like Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell, and how reveal the artifice of the Nice Guy persona.

But there’s an unevenness in the way Promising Young Female flirts with the idea that Cassandra is an imperfect victim. Fennell’s movie would be bolder and more discomfiting if she were more confident about Cassandra’s cruelty toward the women who behave in ways that make them complicit with male violence. The black-and-white nature of the film’s division between male and female culpability ignores many of the real world’s shades of grey. But there is a certain logic to the way Promising Young Woman focuses its ire, and to how it positions Cassandra as able to manipulate the fear and panic that comes from a “he-said, she-said” position. Although the film’s consideration of misogyny and misandry aren’t as unique as Fennell might like to think, the singularity of her vision and the fearlessness of Mulligan’s efficiency are both admirable. Flaws and all, Promising Girl is fully itself.

Promising Girl is readily available for digital leasing on Amazon, Vudu, and other streaming services.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.