A Promising New Movie

“A Promising Young Woman” breaks the mold of revenge films. (Courtesy of Twitter)

“A Promising Young Woman” breaks the mold of revenge films. (Courtesy of Twitter)

In any good revenge film, you can find a devious and cunning storyline, a dramatic sequence of events and an action-packed screenplay. But “Promising Young Woman” is not a good revenge film – it’s a great one. This is mainly due to its mélange of genres that, on paper, do not seem to work together: haunting thriller, heartwarming rom-com and dark comedy. The style of the film keeps the audience on their toes, making the revenge plot even more enticing. “Promising Young Woman” exceeds all expectations not only for its unique style but also because it offers the audience twists and revelations when they least expect it, as well as a shocking ending. 


The brilliant complexity of this film is enhanced by its cast of familiar faces that viewers have grown to love, but we are eventually forced to recalibrate our predispositions within the context of the plot. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” features outstanding lead performances by Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham, as well as by its all-star cast of Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Connie Britton and Max Greenfield – just to name a few. 


“Promising Young Woman” stars Mulligan as Cassie, a medical school dropout who quit after an unfortunate circumstance fell upon her dear friend and classmate, Nina. Years later, still mending the wounds from Nina’s tragedy, Cassie works in a coffee shop and lives with her parents, enduring a seemingly bleak existence. However, we learn that Cassie is living a double life – barista by day and huntress by night. She has set into a vengeful routine of attending nightclubs and bars each week, pretending to be severely intoxicated, and waiting for a man to feign concern and offer her a ride home. Almost every week, Cassie’s journey home takes an unexpected detour to the man’s apartment, where he attempts to take advantage of a (seemingly) drunk and incoherent Cassie. During these ventures, right before the night can turn further south, Cassie abruptly quits her act and exposes her blatant sobriety, which both startles and intimidates the “chivalrous” man she’s with. Each week, Cassie makes herself out to be what these men would call an “easy target,” but in fact she turns them into the target by the end of the night, leaving them with a firm and frightening warning to never take advantage of another woman.  


What is most interesting about these scenes is that viewers get to witness the men change before our eyes, as they begin to realize the cruelty of their almost-actions, and how they foolishly believed themselves to be decent, nice guys. This aspect of the film draws attention to the nuances of rape culture that exist in society today. It reveals how sometimes those who genuinely believe themselves to be kind, helpful and benign may instead be the most dangerous, since they even deceive themselves into thinking they’re the “nice guys.” Moreover, the film ignites an important discussion of rape culture by depicting seemingly benevolent people – refined businessmen, friendly doctors and esteemed educators – as those who continue to reinforce the trend of doubting and belittling victims. By using a cinematic lens for such serious subject matter, Emerald Fennell succeeds at shedding light on these harmful tendencies that are not addressed with such distinction in other media. 


The backdrop of the enticing thriller is a delightful romance between Cassie and another former classmate, Ryan, who is played by Burnham. The rom-com moments between Cassie and Ryan certainly appear more fitting to the lighthearted and upbeat tone of the film, and yet pose another contrast to Cassie’s dark backstory. After experiencing the same potentially violent interactions alongside Cassie during her weekly club outings, the viewer finds themselves ready to give up all faith in the male species as a whole; that is, until Cassie meets charming, goofy and friendly Ryan – a genuinely nice guy. The audience begins to loosen the reigns of our skeptical and cynical view of men as the love story unfolds and as Ryan proves himself to be the antithesis of the men that Cassie goes home with each week. In the heart of all the romance, however, we are subtly reminded of the main plot, leading us to question what’s in store for the rest of the film, and whether or not we should anticipate a “happily ever after.” This layer of the movie is another tool that is used to mystify the audience’s anticipations and overall mood, allowing the darker side of the plot to reveal itself in more shocking ways. 


The serious contents of the film’s plot is in stark contrast to its bubbly soundtrack, featuring hits by Charli XCX, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. To intensify this contrast even further, the setting of an idealistic, safe suburban neighborhood rejects the typical haunting or dreary places that one would perhaps associate with a dark tale of revenge. The pop soundtrack, pastel color palette and cookie-cutter aesthetics of the film make it feel like the film takes place in Barbie dream world, but the subject matter couldn’t be any more different. 


The film first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Jan. 2020 and was later released in the United States on Dec. 25, 2020. It has received praise on all social media platforms since its formal release. The film was also very well-received by esteemed critics, including those of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, as it was recently nominated for four Golden Globe awards: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Director. 


With all of this in mind, I assure you that you won’t regret watching this film. “Promising Young Woman” – through both its atypical cinematic style and deeply intricate plot – dances along the line between kindness and deceit, comedy and tragedy and good and evil. This complex narrative takes the audience for a ride from start to finish, leaving them wide-eyed well after the film’s ending.