Written, directed, and produced by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman is a smash of a directorial debut for the Emmy-nominated showrunner of Killing Eve. When first introduced, the titular character, Cassie (Carey Mulligan), is apparently too drunk to sit upright or speak clearly when a man named Jerry (Adam Brody) offers to take her home. They instead go to his apartment where he plies Cassie with more drink in the form of kumquat liqueur. As he attempts to take advantage, it becomes apparent that Mulligan's character is in fact, quite sober, and she's there to teach Jerry a lesson.
And so goes Promising Young Woman. At some point in the past, Cassie was in medical school when her longtime best friend Nina was raped at a party, bullied into recanting her confession, and then dropped out of school. Cassie went with her to take care of her, and now works in a coffee shop while living with her parents.
The revenge aspect of Fennell's debut is intriguing, because rather than taking aspects of the usual rape-revenge film, wherein the audience is shown a horrific assault and then the victim's subsequent, revenant returning of that assault upon its perpetrators, Cassie is carrying this out in Nina's name. It's more in the vein of a Taken or Death Wish, wherein the usually-male protagonist goes scorched-earth reign of terror on behalf of a woman.
Not for nothing does Promising Young Woman subvert multiple expectations during its runtime. The vast majority of the awful men in the film are played by actors such as the aforementioned Adam Brody from The O.C., Chris Lowell from Veronica Mars, and Max Greenfield from The New Girl, whose respective characters of Seth, Piz, and Schmidt are all known for being “nice guys.” It's a fantastically-clever bit of casting which really drives home the film's message that not everything is as it seems, and one would do well to believe what women tell them.
Promising Young Woman, for all its strong messaging and difficult-to-watch scenes, still manages to be at times funny and charming. It's not as dark as one might think, but at no point does Fennell as a writer or director let the viewer off the hook. While the occasionally candy-coloured visual and sonic pallet at play might cause one to assume frippery, it's another case of misdirection to flip everything on its head one more time.
Release Date: February 12th