It would be easy to suggest that “Promising Young Woman,” a new drama starring Carey Mulligan, is simply a “Falling Down” for the #MeToo era but it is much more than that. It has elements of that but it is also an audacious look at rape culture and male privilege that weaves dark humour and revenge into the ragged fabric of its story.
It’s difficult to talk about “Promising Young Woman” without being spoilerific but here goes: Mulligan is Cassandra, a thirty-year-old drop out from medical school. She lives at home with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge), works at a coffee shop with her best, and only friend, Gail (Laverene Cox). “If I wanted a house, a career, a yoga class and a boyfriend my mom could brag about I’d do it,” she says. “In ten minutes. But I don’t want it.”
At night she hits the clubs, pretending to be intoxicated, waiting for men to approach her. Just when they think she is at her most vulnerable, she “comes to.” “What is this?” says one of the “nice guys” who tries to take advantage of her. “Are you some kind of psycho? I thought you were…” “Drunk?” she says, finishing his sentence.
At home she has a notebook, filled a list of the men she has encountered and the several names in store for a “day of reckoning.”
There’s more but one of the pleasures of “Promising Young Woman” is in its ability to surprise and shock with the story’s twists and turns. There is a lot in play here. The action here is fueled by Cassie’s trauma but writer-director Emerald Fennell keeps the action off kilter with the introduction of dark satire, revenge, an exploration of toxic masculinity and even some rom com-esque scenes. The culmination of all these disparate components is a film with a strange tone but a clear-cut point of view. It’s social commentary as art and it works.
Mulligan appears in virtually every frame, navigating the story’s left turns and holding its centre no matter what is thrown at her. The sense of loss that drives her is always present—she even wears a broken heart pendent—even when she is in control, steely-eyed and ready to rumble.
“Promising Young Woman” is occasionally rough around the edges structurally but despite its flaws is compelling and surprising.