Movie Review by Ethlie Ann Vare
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/14/20 – One of the best observations I ever heard from a psychologist was this: “The problem in the world today is that men are scared and women are angry. Unfortunately, what scares men most is women’s anger.” Of course, what made women angry in the first place is the crappy way they are treated by men. But they don’t like to talk about that part.
Filmmaker Emerald Fennel, however, has managed to make a whole movie about it. This brilliant young filmmaker, known for her work on Killing Eve and The Crown (and my new imaginary best friend), has distilled the concept into a crackling, darkly comic thriller starring Carey Mulligan as a deliciously twisted heroine with an axe to grind… possibly literally.
We begin with a group of frat bros at a bar contemplating the possible gang rape of a sloppy drunk named Cassie (Mulligan.) But, you know, they’re just joking. #NotAllMen, amiright? It’s the male gaze turned back on itself with the precision of a knife-sharp boomerang. And the reversals keep on coming. Because Cassie, it turns out, wasn’t drunk at all. She just wants to give these guys enough rope to hang themselves. And hang themselves they do, again and again, and again.
We come to learn that Cassie was a bright and promising medical student who dropped out after a tragic event that’s fairly easy to guess, although the way she handles it is not. She now lives in a Pepto Bismol pink bedroom in her befuddled parents’ (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge) home and works not very hard at a coffee shop run by the indulgent Gail (Laverne Cox.) At night, she dresses to the nines and trolls for assholes.
Until that is, Ryan (Bo Burnham) walks into the coffee shop. A med school classmate who long nursed a crush for Cassie, Ryan has had the life trajectory she was supposed to have: He’s a respected pediatric surgeon, still a part of their friend group, and a guy who is available for — and interested in having — a romantic relationship. Preferably with Cassie.
Will this movie turn into a delightful rom-com after all, with Ryan and Cassie lip-synching to Paris Hilton (yes, really) in the drug store aisle, or will it take off in a new and even darker direction?
Burnham, better known as a comic and a director (Eighth Grade), makes an endearing romantic lead; I would love to see him in more roles. Mulligan is scorching as the whip-smart, deeply disturbed Cassie. Writer/director Fennell judiciously gives noteworthy actors like Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, Molly Shannon, Adam Brody, and Alison Brie perfect cameos for a moment to both shine and advance the plot. Fennell even gives herself one great performance. The script couldn’t have found a better director; the director couldn’t have found a better property.
You could call Promising Young Woman the Thelma and Louise of the 21st Century. It is certainly a movie you will not soon forget. If you see it on a date, I guarantee you and your date will come away with two different perspectives. Which is kind of the point.
A Focus Features Release
Producers: Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell.
Director: Emerald Fennell.
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Alfred Molina, Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell, Sam Richardson, Molly Shannon, Clancy Brown, Christopher Lowell
Opens December 25