Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a 30 year-old medical school dropout living with her parents, Stan (Clancy Brown) and Susan (Jennifer Coolidge). By day, Cassie works at a coffeshop alongside manager Gail (Laverne Cox), seemingly bored with life – but by night Cassie’s real work begins.
Spurred on by the death of her best friend Nina, Cassie takes her simmering-under-the-surface anger out on men (honestly, good for her). Tailoring her outfits to fit the vibe of the guy – office chic, hipster cool, naughty nurse – Cassie pretends to be incredibly inebriated, staggering her way around bars until she catches her prey. Then, when they’re alone together and he’s starting to take advantage of her ‘drunken’ state, she pounces.
Things change for Cassie when she meets Ryan (Bo Burnham), a fellow student-now-doctor, sweet as can be and genuinely very into her. As Cassie tries to juggle her after-dark activities with her new relationship, things quickly turn sour when she discovers a secret about Ryan’s past – and she plots her most sinister plan yet.
With a strong (and surprising – before watching I didn’t realise it included so many great names) supporting cast including Alison Brie, Chris Lowell, Adam Brody, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, Alfred Molina, Molly Shannon and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Promising Young Woman is a black-comedy hoot from start to finish. Exploring themes of consent and sexual assault, Fennell – who wrote, directed and produced the film, alongside making time for a quick cameo herself – has taken two very heavy, serious topics and brought them into the light for all to see. An important move at a pivotal time, following the #MeToo movement and story after story of big boss executives and organisations moving at a snail’s pace to change their ways.
Mulligan is magnificent as Cassie, playing as we’ve never seen her before. As a huge fan of Carey and her work, watching her as this grieving, obsessed, menacing young woman is truly refreshing; I wonder if she ever thought she’d play someone so ‘modern’ and full of emotion when she was filming Pride & Prejudice, 16 years ago? Part of Cassie’s genius is the costumes she dons to fit her various characters, meticulously planned by Nancy Steiner. It’s said that Fennell used a mood board to convey to the cast and crew Cassie’s differing moods – that level of detail is obvious while watching. Cassie is whip-smart, coy and quietly quite terrifying, and I couldn’t help but warm to her.
Supported by Burnham as Ryan, we start to root for Cassie, as the pair seem like a match made in Hollywood heaven. He’s clever, funny and ‘nice’ which is why Cassie’s parents like him…and also why Ryan’s big secret is so disarming.
DVD extras include a commentary by Fennell herself, a three behind-the-scenes mini films: A Promising Vision, exploring the story, its themes and Cassie’s yearning for justice; Two-Sided Transformation, examining Cassie as a character and the power of costuming; and Balancing Act, detailing the work that went into contrasting ‘horrendous’ with ‘hilarious’.
With an ending I didn’t see coming – the shock/scream emoji? That was my face – and a fantastic soundtrack to boot, Promising Young Woman is a deliciously dark thriller making important statements.