Film review: ‘PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The trailer for Promising Young Woman suggests a violent I Spit On Your Grave-style revenge thriller drenched in garish iridescent colours.  One scene aside, however, this is a much less confronting film than that, which is a mixed blessing.  On one hand, the film is less thrilling than expected and even a little leisurely.  On the other hand, the restrained style allows some of the ideas, particular related to a reassessment of male behaviour in the #MeToo era, to breathe.

Here, the wonderful Carey Mulligan, who is probably best known as Daisy in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (a role vaguely referenced here) plays medical school drop-out Cassandra Thomas.  By day, she’s a misanthropic and extremely unmotivated café worker but at night she carries out a strange psychological revenge plan against sleazy men. This involves her going to nightclubs and pretending to be almost paralytically drunk so that superficially well-meaning but actually creepy men will try to pick her up.  In the midst of their fumbling attempts to have sex with her, she reveals that she’s perfectly sober and forces them to confront the reality of their vile behaviour.  Her nocturnal life takes a potentially dangerous turn when she plans to expose a male from her past whose despicable actions not only derailed her medical career but led to a greater tragedy.

Despite a tantalising premise and the fact that the film addresses vital issues concerning the treatment of women, it is simply not as gripping as is should be.  The main problem is that it’s tonally confused, mixing social commentary, personal drama and quirky deadpan comedy.  The film makes important points about society’s attitudes to women and the privileges and excuses offered men who behave appallingly.  It also condemns women who fail to acknowledge this behaviour and to stand up for other women.  The serious approach to this important issue clashes, though, with the film’s attempts at comedy.  Cassandra’s clumsily well-meaning parents (with whom she still lives at 30) played by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown seem to only exist in their ornate and garish suburban home and are almost entirely there for laughs.  Also, Cassandra’s brief foray into a promising romance, despite serving a bigger plot purpose, feels weirdly out of place.

Also, the script and direction from writer/ director Emerald Fennell lacks intensity as she too often she takes her foot of the pedal.  A more disturbing sequence toward the end and a fairly satisfying denouement aside, the film simply doesn’t hit hard enough.  She does, however, make inspired use of music putting Paris Hilton’s ‘Stars are Blind’ alongside Wagner’s epic Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.

Carey Mulligan is excellent as always and in her depiction of Cassandra’s struggle to cope with past events, provides a magnetic centre to the film.  Despite Mulligan’s performance, the contradictions in Cassandra’s behaviour don’t always make sense, though, as she switches from intense confrontations including attacking an obnoxious guy’s car with a crowbar to being completely chilled. Similarly, the light-hearted banter between her and café boss Laverne Cox feels like something out of a completely different film.

While Promising Young Woman left this reviewer feeling like an opportunity had been, if not lost, at least not fully realised, the film at least serves the important role of making audiences consider the impact of socially ingrained misogyny.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Emerald Fennell.

Release date: 1st Jan 2021.

Running time: 114 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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