Throughout Emerald Fennell’s pulse-pumping revenge thriller Promising Young Woman, you constantly hear the refrain, “but I’m a good guy”. Well talk is cheap, and the film’s protagonist Cassie makes it her life mission to teach these “good guys” that actions speak louder than words. From a male’s perspective, the film not only delivers a thrilling psychological tale of vengeance, it also speaks volumes about society’s alarming attempt to normalize the toxic “boys will be boys” mentality that’s pervasive in everyday life.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is scarred. Years after a night of heavy drinking resulted in tragedy for her best friend Nina, the former Medical School standout has purposely devolved into an unpleasant coffee shop barista dead set on righting a cultural wrong. Cassie spends her nights frequenting local clubs and masquerading as a helpless lush who’s too intoxicated to comprehend her own vulnerability. She knows that this ruse will attract the attention of some male predator and provide Cassie the opportunity to expose their disgusting behavior.
This cunning little game that Cassie plays is far from the entirety of the film. Fennell’s script also sends Cassie on a trip down memory lane when a former Med School classmate Ryan, played superbly by Bo Burnham, runs into her at the coffee shop and a relationship ensues. Ryan’s character serves as a beacon of hope for a woman so entrenched in her negative views of the opposite sex, all while pulling Cassie back to the darkest moments of her life. There are so many other twists, turns and deviations thrown onto the canvas of Fennell’s screenplay that elevate Promising Young Woman to something far beyond a statement film. Cassie’s guarded character slowly reveals more about her personal psyche as the story progresses and she’s utterly fascinating. And the thrill ride she’ll take you on can only be topped by the towering onscreen performance from Carey Mulligan. She owns the role and runs with it, crafting an insidious unpredictability to Cassie that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Promising Young Woman represents that rare and impactful type of movie experience that not only carries a powerful message, but wraps it in an engaging and brilliantly delivered package.