Tuesday Review – Promising Young Woman (2020)

films, reviews

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In light of all of the Covid nonsense, I’ve really not been keeping track of awards season this year. I’ve barely watched any of the nominees. Or at least I’m pretty sure that I haven’t because I don’t even know who all of the nominees are. I’ve just lost my way with films and decided that there were other things to focus on this year. Plus, it isn’t really the same when you can’t head out to the cinema. Despite my Oscars blackout, I was still overjoyed to wake up to the news that this year’s ceremony had made history. Anthony Hopkins became the oldest person to ever win for acting. Daniel Kaluuya picked up the best supporting actor and became the first Black British actor to win an Oscar. Then there’s Chloé Zhao who became not only the second woman to win Best Director but also the first woman of colour. It’s quite the positive step for the Academy. Emerald Fennel was given recognition for her screenplay and became the first person since 2007 to win. This was only one that I was really invested in. I was desperate for Fennel to win. Why? Not only was the film important and original but I’m becoming obsessed with Fennel. She seems like a fantastic human being with a unique creativity. This was one film that I knew I had to see as soon as possible.

Promising Young Woman is an interesting kind of film. It feels as though everything about it is trying to fool the audience. From the trailers that make it look like some sort of slasher film to the aesthetic that puts you more in mind of a romantic comedy. There are times, with all the pastel colours and symmetrical framing, that you could easily think you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie with a fair bit of the quirk removed. Oh, and a whole dose of anger and revenge. Whatever else might be going on, this is a film that is certainly timely. Emerald Fennel has undoubtedly captured the feeling that so many women are experiencing at the moment. A feeling that has been around for far too long. It’s a mix of anger and grief about all of the women who have had their lives ruined.

The premise is a seemingly straightforward one. Cassie is on the verge of turning 30 but her life is on hold. After an incident caused her to quit medical school, move in with parents and get a job in a coffee shop. It’s a sorry sort of existence for a woman who dreamt of being a doctor when she was growing up. Cassie has pushed all of the good things out of her life. She has no friends, no relationship and no hobbies. Well, she does have one hobby as it turns out. At night, Cassie will get dressed up, head out to a bar, pretend to get drunk and wait for some “nice guy” to take her home. When this knight in shining armour inevitably makes his move, Cassie reveals her sobriety to the shocked young man and makes her move. Once she’s done, she will add his name to her notebook. It’s not quite the life that she envisaged but it’s what drives her.

Of course, Fennel is a clever writer and she is not content with making this film simple. Just as you think you’re starting to get a handle of Cassie and her actions, a spanner is thrown into the works. She reunites with a former med school classmate and he asks her out. Ryan looks to be everything that Cassie needs. He’s a doctor, he’s sensitive to her needs and makes her laugh. Cassie finds that she’s beginning to see a life outside of her vengeance. The different sides of this film blend together so nicely. The rom-com and the thriller elements don’t fight for attention but somehow find a good rapport. Both fighting for dominance occasionally but neither taking the lead. It becomes hard to see which side will win out. Which side will Cassie choose? This is a film that delights in keeping you guessing.

This film garnered a lot of attention for its subject matter but it is being celebrated for how clever it is. The script is as tight as you’d expect from the Killing Eve showrunner. The film looks beautiful and all of the details are perfect. Then there’s the casting. It is perfect. Carey Mulligan is on top form as Cassie and she manages to bring the different sides to her character. She is the perfect romantic interest, world-weary millennial and stone cold avenger. It’s fabulous. Then there are the “nice guys” who find themselves crossing the line from saviour to attacker without much thought. Each of these roles has been filled with actors most known for playing good guys. Actors like Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sam Richardson and Chris Lowell. Men who normally play the adorable yet geeky guy. The men who women feel safe around. This is a counterpoint to the #NotAllMen crowd. It tells us that there is no stereotypical predator. All it takes is one decision and one drunk girl.

This is a film that aims to make the audience uncomfortable. There are some truly awful moments and horrible realisations. It’s also funny. Both traditionally and with a darker sensibility. There are some jokes that are funny even though they shouldn’t’ be. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in but I absolutely loved it. It’s so clever and engaging. The contrast between the twee elements and the darker tones works so well. The jaunty pop songs of the score which play off the tense original score. The two faces of this film are here to represent that looks can be deceiving. That not all of these self-proclaimed “nice guys” are as positive as they look. That just because a man has looks and money doesn’t mean you shouldn’t suspect him. In the hands of a writer and director like Fennel, this film has pulled off something extraordinary. I’m already looking forward to watching it again.

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