The new film, “Promising Young Woman,” written and directed by Emerald Fennell, strikes the viewer like a bolt of lightning. This is Fennell’s directorial debut, but one would not know that from the expert precision and singular vision she brings to the screen. Before the release of this film she was best known to American audiences as the actress who portrayed Camilla Parker-Bowles on “The Crown,” and as showrunner/head writer for season two of “Killing Eve.”
The plot follows the titular character, Cassie Thomas, portrayed by a pitch-perfect Carey Mulligan, as she tries to avenge the rape of her best friend, which occurred 10 years prior to the events of the film. This film has sparked a multitude of conversations about what American audiences expect from films that center around topics such as revenge or sexual violence, particularly because of its uncanny ability to subvert the audience’s expectations at every turn.
I also have to give credit to the rest of the ensemble cast, all of whom do phenomenal jobs rounding out the world Fennell has created. Stand-up comedian Bo Burnham plays Cassie’s friend and love interest, and while one would expect him to know his way around a comedic line, he delivers a genuinely believable and captivating performance.
What is most impressive about this film is the way every individual aspect builds to create the overall story. The pastel and neon color palettes, the pop-infused soundtrack, everything added to the sense of Cassie performing the femininity that society expects from her, even as both she and the audience know it is just that: a performance.
What this film does that no other film has is tackling the system that allows for these horrific acts from all angles. Other films that have tried tackling a rape-revenge storyline oftentimes center around a singular man and seem to have the message that once that individual is dealt with, suddenly everything has been solved. Fennell’s screenplay does not let anyone who has anything to do with what happened to Cassie’s friend off the hook.
Oftentimes, I find myself reflecting upon the films I have seen with different opinions from the one I had when I first left the theater. My uneasiness eventually turns into adoration, or my love turns into apathy, but weeks after my third viewing of “Promising Young Woman,” I still cannot wait to see it again.
By Jackie Hines