January 14, 2021

GENRE | A 'Promising Young Woman' Gets Her Revenge

"That is just asking for it."
Carey Mulligan Emerald Fennell | Promising Young Woman
Focus Features / LuckyChap Entertainment
British actress and filmmaker Emerald Fennell, who recently played Camila Parker Bowles in The Crown in addition to showrunning season two of Killing Eve, makes her feature directorial debut with a twisted dark comedy revenge thriller with a deceptively bright bubblegum pop gloss to it. Starring Carey Mulligan as a contemporary femme fatale, Promising Young Woman is all about an underestimated bombshell in disguise exacting her own form of disturbing vigilante justice against would-be male rapists.

Produced by Margot Robbie, Fennel's film gets pretty wild with its premise about luring then punishing toxic men who are about to commit sexual assault. Her commentary about rape culture and how men generally act is incisive, but almost everyone becomes essentially like a villain including Mulligan's vengeful Cassie in parts. It's unsatisfying exactly how successful or not the reversal of rape motivated heroism is within the film.

Cassie is not a victim per se as her screed against various men is more about the sexual crimes adjacent to her that feels more convenient than fully developed. Furthermore, Mulligan's sparkling chemistry with Bo Burnham as a sort of cute love interest diversion becomes unnecessarily messy as a deliberate misdirection or distraction despite their initially winning pairing.

Carey Mulligan Bo Burnham Emerald Fennell | Promising Young Woman

Featuring a plethora of comedic male actors famous for previously playing your favourite boyfriends in small roles, mostly as recognizable faces showing up to play predators masquerading as nice guys, Fennell's cast makes a lot of the revenge dramatized work by expressing the psychological cost of extracting it. However, the film takes a lot of liberties and turns Cassie into an almost maniacal supervillain with a flawed sense of justice at best. Fortunately, Mulligan makes for such an appealing anti-hero with her chameleon-like performances within performances fooling most everyone else.

Promising Young Woman certainly goes for it with a venomous view on sexual politics as Fennell tries to subvert cultural standards of rape and rapists through some twisted actions. What prevents the cathartic film from soaring is its tight focus on these set of heightened misogynistic circumstances. Regardless, it's a definite conversation starter bound to divide audiences and inspire further hot takes against how society continues to tolerate sexual violence against women.

Promising Young Woman is available to stream on various digital platforms and through video on demand.

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