Director: Emerald Fennell
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton
Produced by: Focus Features
Where to Watch: n/a
In putting together these kinds of lists, one of my hard rules has been "the film has to at least have been released by the time this list comes out." An exception is being made this year, because A) look at the year we're having, and B) it's not my fault that Focus had to push the release of Promising Young Woman from April to Christmas Day. As a matter of fact, I've been envious of my homie who got to attend a screening of the film back in March! Why? Because this film houses one of the most shocking stories and performances I've seen all year.
For a society that's still trying to figure out how to deal with the #MeToo movement and all of its ramifications, it's interesting to note that tales that examine how society fosters this environment for men to treat women are starting to hit the silver screen. Another film, The Assistant, was released earlier this year; a quiet examination of how one woman realizes she's working for a Harvey Weinstein-type, The Assistant let a lot of the real trauma go unseen, and at times unheardbarely. You felt like a fly on the wall of one of these Hollywood production companies, getting just enough information to, say, go to a reporter with, but never enough to have a clear smoking gun. In Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell hands Carey Mulligan the gun, allowing her to pistol-whip a hole into said wall, and unload the entire clip into all of the shitheads in the room.
Mulligan steals the show as Cassie, a woman who sets out to right the wrongs done to her in the past. By day she works an odd job, but by night she's something of a Batwoman heroine, doling out justice to the creeps holding up the wall in the club, waiting to strike. The film is funnier than you'd expect it to be, given the subject matter, and a lot of that has to do with Mulligan's performance. It's a meaty role that delivers gut-punch after gut-punch as Cassie stays the course, even though she is aware that the path she's on could ruin her. Sure, at its core, Promising Young Woman is a revenge-thriller, but you almost need the moments of levity (even in its darkest forms) to help you soldier on with this tale.
There's a point late in the film where, while already fully understanding the course we're on, my mouth was left hanging open. I wasn't surprised at what was happening, mind you—I was just surprised that Fennell, Mulligan, and co. took the story there. It's commendable; so often with films, especially those that deal with the worst parts of humanity, harsh realities are glossed over, because, at the end of the day, this is all escapism. Promising Young Woman being a revenge-fantasy at heart helps; its refusal to shy away from the reality of Cassie's situation, in this day and age, is paramount. We need more films like this, for those who have survived this type of trauma as well as those who don't realize how they are a part of the problem.