Promising Young Woman (2020)

After many months of not really doing cinema for obvious reasons, it’s interesting to see the films trickle back in here in New Zealand. This one is slated for proper release next year but was getting some preview screenings, and it certainly is a striking film, though I can imagine it being quite divisive. I’m never really sure if I’m supposed to be rooting for or aghast at its anti-heroine, and I suppose that discomfort is part of what the filmmaker is going for.


I probably need to let this sit with me for a while, but my immediate impression — after just returning from seeing it at the cinema — is that the film is very impressive in the way it ratchets up tension and dripfeeds information about our title character. Carey Mulligan’s Cassie is introduced right from the start, a drunken single woman in a club, as being a little over the hill, therefore suggesting the title is somewhat, perhaps darkly, ironic (although like everything in the film, this observation is as much about the predatory sleaze making the comment to his douchey friends). However, by the time Cassie is having what seems to be a healthy loving relationship with Bo Burnham’s Ryan, there’s no way as a viewer to just feel it in a pure way (in so far as anyone could listen to a scene soundtracked by Paris Hilton in such a way — although, while I’m on this tangent, I am a big fan of her self-titled album, the Rod Stewart cover at the end excepted). No, it’s very much a rollercoaster that seems to be taking from the Fatal Attraction playbook, but twisting it just slightly. I feel very little sympathy for any of the men (many of whom seem to have been cast from their appearances as very likeable, goofy and unthreatening characters in other things), but Cassie evokes the gamut of emotions from compassion to revulsion, and that seems to be part of the film’s text. It’s certainly very careful, I think (as far as I can judge these things), with the way it deploys but doesn’t exploit (at least not visually) sexual trauma. And while everything wraps up neatly, the emotional jaggedness remains, and I can’t be sure whether to embrace this character or to feel manipulated, but it’s probably a little of both.

Promising Young Woman film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Emerald Fennell; Cinematographer Benjamin Kračun; Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Chris Lowell; Length 113 minutes.
Seen at Penthouse, Wellington, Sunday 13 December 2020.

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