Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas (Carey Mulligan), the protagonist of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, is not your ordinary woman. She’s a 30-year-old medical school dropout who lives with her parents and works as a barista at a coffee shop. What makes Cassie extraordinary is her double life: as once or twice a week, she’ll go to clubs and pretend to be passing-out-level drunk to lure in predatory men, and teach them a valuable lesson.
Promising Young Woman, the millennial-pink, dark comedy by Emerald Fennell, is Fennell’s debut feature, and a fearless one at that. Fennell isn’t afraid to go above and beyond with her writing and directing.
Perhaps the most promising thing about the film is that it’s simply a great time. The film is injected with hyper-femininity and candy-coated aesthetics that coexist surprisingly well with the fairly dark subject matter that the film deals with. It isn’t afraid to embrace femininity, and it’s achieved through the protagonist’s pastel-coloured outfits and powerful pop soundtrack containing hits from the likes of Paris Hilton to Juice Newton. The film is unique in that aspect, as there have been many feminist-driven dark comedies, but none as memorable as Promising Young Woman.
The film’s serious subject matter is often drowned out by the film’s sweetness. The film tends to be distracted by its own playfulness that when you peel back its candy-coated layer, it appears to be just a temporary sweet treat with nothing left to offer. It has a star-studded cast, flashy scenery and it takes risks, yet it’s not as good as it should be.
What holds the film back from reaching its full potential is that it seems to think that it’s doing more for the viewer than it really is, from its disappointing attempts at shock value to its ineffective plot twists. Another aspect that weighs the film down is its stiff pacing that doesn’t work as well as it should’ve for a film of this nature, as I felt like I had already seen all that I needed to see when it hit the halfway mark. Promising Young Woman leaves so much room for the viewer to feel shocked that it ends up feeling sort of hollow.
Despite the film’s disappointing aspects, Promising Young Woman is a worthwhile watch that will linger in your mind days after the first viewing, as Carey Mulligan gives one of her most ambitious and ferocious performances yet. The film’s heroine, Cassie, is another fantastic aspect of the film, as Fennell is able to hit the exact mark in writing a powerful, realistic protagonist that is hard to not adore despite her unhinged actions. Cassie’s characterization is done so effectively that it shows how powerful she is, while simultaneously displaying her internal struggle to forgive herself and right the wrongs from the past.
Image courtesy Focus Features While driven by its stylish aesthetics but held back by its lack of substance, Promising Young Woman is still a worthwhile watch for anyone interested in experiencing what could be the next big thing in cinema or just someone looking for a good time.
Promising Young Woman opened in Cineplex on Dec. 25.