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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Promising Young Woman' Review: Carey Mulligan Hunts Predators In Emerald Fennell's Genre Fusion

Carey Mulligan holding a scalpel in a nurse outfit

Baby can't you see that with some sweet taste of poison paradise, you might be on a ride with Promising Young Woman from director-writer Emerald Fennell, who's making her feature debut in both roles in fact. The woman in the title could be either one that we learn about but don't see in the film or it could be the main character Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a 30-year-old barista who has previously quit medical school after her best friend and classmate was sexually assaulted there, leading to her dying by suicide.

This is a revenge thriller underneath the rom-com layer so at night Cassie is acting drunk in nightclubs where a ''nice guy'' would take her to his place and try to sexually assault her while she's not consenting or in no condition to give consent, before she reveals her sobriety and confronts them. That dark comedy begins to seep in after that setup which is when you realise that you are in for a brilliant genre mashup that happens to also have style for days.

There's no escape from those well executed tonal shifts that Fennell brings to the table but the good thing is that the film isn't just its genres, the story itself is also enthralling with less bloody aspects of revenge tales. It'd be rather pointless even to talk about the level of violence or non-violence that Cassie uses because it's very poignant for a PG-13 movie (disgracefully rated R in the US, a real shame) and serves the pastel-coloured aesthetic better than 'John Wick' style of killing spree would.

Fennell's script then takes those story beats and improves them constantly as your expectations of genre tropes and rom-com character traits get challenged and turned upside down, especially of those 90s and 2000s comedies (à la 'American Pie', 'Road Trip'). The ending was actually spoiled for me personally so I was concerned at first but understood the point after because it felt like Fennell didn't take the shortcut, instead she leaves you with a punch to your gut to which some movies, like this one, earn the right to do that.

It's dangerous to only name some of the people from the wonderful cast but there is only so much time in the world after all. Mulligan is simply superb in the leading role as she pulls off acting drunk, the romance, resentment and the promise of Cassie all in one performance, all which are boosted by excellent costume design by Nancy Steiner since that is always aligned with colourful sets, makeup and hairstyling.

Beyond the star of the show, 'Promising' is exceptionally well cast by Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham-Ahanonu and Fennell—you might recognise quite a few of the ''nice guys'' (Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse for example) or Bo Burnham who plays Cassie's love interest Ryan because they are known for playing likeable characters before. Likely another intentional wink to the audience is Jennifer Coolidge playing Cassie's mom Susan, just like the previous mention of 'American Pie' was intentional. Callbacks, we are addicted to you.

Smileys: Casting, screenplay, Carey Mulligan, costume design, story

Frowneys: Nothing too bad

Wondering if my coffee order (Devil's cup with no spit) has been completely wrong all this time. Who knew?


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