REVIEW: ‘Promising Young Woman’ is pinnacle revenge filmmaking

Some take vengeance in a swift manner, while others take the long approach with a more calculated plan.

“Promising Young Woman” is about the latter, and it makes for one of 2020’s best films.

Cassandra is the main character of the movie, and is portrayed by Carey Mulligan. A medical school dropout, Cassandra lives at home with her parents and works at a quaint coffee shop. By night, though, she plays a different role. Her evenings are spent in clubs, where she pretends to be drunk until a sleazy guy decides to take her to their home. Once there, she reveals that she’s actually sober and revels in their guilt.

By the start of the film, Cassandra seems to have been doing this for a while. Her drive is the memory of her friend, who was raped in college and also dropped out before passing away. As the first act gets underway, Cassandra discovers ways she can get back directly at those who wronged her friend, as well as those who didn’t listen to her story after. At the same time, she also reconnects with another old friend from med school.

“Promising Young Woman” is a brilliant, funny and gripping movie. The film takes aim at rape culture, and unleashes fury on the issue, holding absolutely no punches.

The movie balances these jabs at a societal issue while telling a really solid revenge story. On top of the intrigue about what will happen next and how Cassandra will exact her plot, the movie is also well paced.

Each important development is fleshed out and given properly timed scenes, yet the movie keeps up a snappy pace, which works for both its entertaining moments of revenge and the sequences of black comedy. It keeps a viewer fully invested and informed without ever having  a lull.

Writer Emerald Fennell, who also directed the picture, created such an engrossing story . The twists, turns and happenings make for a fulfilling watch, and the social points it touches on give it even more depth.

Courtesy Focus Features.

Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan is on fire in “Promising Young Woman.” She portrays Cassandra with a constant, seething rage underneath her calm demeanor. While she appears mostly disinterested in most things, Cassandra has a storm of emotions and thoughts inside, and Mulligan is superb in bringing this to the screen.

That’s not to say Mulligan only has two gears. Yes, there are times when the character is focused on revenge and others where she’s restraining her emotions, but she gives Cassandra other dimensions as well.

Bo Burnham, who plays an alum from Cassandra’s school, Ryan, who she starts hanging out with, is also really strong here. Ryan is certainly a funny character, and Burnham makes this work with great comedic timing. It’s also important to note that for a lot of the movie, Ryan is sort of a voice of reason in the film, and Burnham’s steady performance makes this work nicely.

Along with the story, Fennell deserves tremendous credit for writing some sensational dialogue. In one moment, an interaction between two characters can make a viewer laugh out loud, and in another, a discussion will have an audience feeling intense emotions.

The movie also has a strong visual identity. There’s a vibrant, candy colored aesthetic featured at times which really gives the film a noticeable flair. The use of color does more than just make the movie more visually interesting, though. It also speaks to what’s happening in the film.

At times, for example, pastel colors are featured, such as characters talking in a room full of pastel pinks. The normally lighter color being muted and pale speaks to the sadness the main character is experiencing.

This movie fires on all cylinders. The direction, writing, acting, visual aspects and even the music are all high quality and the result is a fantastic dark, dramatic comedy. 5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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