Promising Young Woman is compelling and at the same time uncomfortable.
Carey Mulligan’s Cassandra in the hands of outstanding direction by Emerald Fennell holds our attention as she travels a pattern of revenge that is confusing yet deliberate through out the entire script.
Cassandra is a promising young woman, or at least she was before her close friend Nina was assaulted by a group of young men that lead to Nina committing suicide. Cassandra’s career as a surgeon before loosing Nina had her on top of her class at medical school and headed to a significant medical future. Nina’s death completely altered her direction.
As Promising Young Woman opens she is working in a low level coffee shop with a minimum wage (she has lost all her ambition). At night she makes entries in her score book that lists by tally marks the numbers of men who she has taken on as they attempt to take advantage of her when she looks to be under the influence. It’s a game she plays as part of her attempt to limit the activity that took Nina away.
She lives with her parents in a polished large home that is filled with Rococo furniture and related renderings on the walls. Even the table cloth has a plastic cover to help maintain the perfection her mother, played beautifully by Jennifer Coolidge expects. She wants everything to be just right in her home and with her daughter. Dad played by Clancy Brown puts less pressure on and is more accepting of the new life his daughter is living.
At home Cassandra lives like a teenager watching videos on her laptop and lounging in her bedroom which has massive golden curtains behind the flawless bed spread. But she is no longer perfect she is deeply wounded. During the evening and at night she moves from bar to bar collecting victims who may attempt to have sex with her.
The downward spiral is limited when she meets up with Ryan (Bo Burnham) one of her former colleagues who compare to the guys she has been chasing is gentle and fun. Her image on the screen changes Director Fennell even has her sitting with a blue plaque on a wall that appears to be an angelic crown around her head, she stands on the porch at home and the camera pans away quickly showing her alone in the idealistic front yard. They dance together in a drug store and her face begins to show a calm smile.
But her travels to extract vengeance continue and she has Jordan played with believable emotion by Alfred Molina in tears and admitting he cannot sleep because of his part in the trial. She develops a false nasty story in dealing with Dean Elizabeth Walker (Connie Britton) the one who found that Nina’s story could not be upheld.
Eventually she secures a video of the rape and steps out as a hooker nurse to create the final revenge on the rapists and his friends who watched the assault.
From there two or maybe three twists come forward as she heads for a gathering of the clan that was on the video. What comes from that continues the tension that fills the entire film but also surprises us and the characters in the script.
Promising You Woman may be the best film I have seen this year it is beautifully crafted and performed. It demands attention.