Promising Young Woman
Emerald Fennell’s screenplay for Promising Young Woman breaks all the rules — and that’s what makes it such a kick. It starts out as a pastel-colored romantic comedy featuring breezy pop tunes and then strikes back at the conventions of a genre where dudes usually get away with anything. But not this time. Instead, Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) is out to avenge the brutal rape of her best friend. She dresses up as a male fantasy and hangs out at clubs pretending to be smashed. When paunchy junior-executive types swoop in to “rescue” her, Cassie suddenly sobers up and spoils their fun.
As Fennell has noted in interviews, these are guys she encountered in her younger days — or saw strutting in movies or TV shows — and she has them down cold. She has a keen ear for the humorous but hostile lines men habitually toss at women. Cassie’s would-be predators continually refer to themselves as “gentlemen” and “nice guys,” but prove to be anything but. These are privileged boys who grew up to be upstanding members of society — doctors, lawyers, maybe even judges (Brett Kavanaugh, anyone?).
As in her work as showrunner on season two of Killing Eve, Fennell skillfully manages a delicate balance between deadly funny and deadly. Deep into the film we’re still not sure if this is going to be a romantic comedy or a blood bath. Fennel anticipates what the audience wants and then confounds expectations at every turn. In the script, she writes that Cassie “never [gives] what the audience wants to see: the hot girl taking her clothes off.” What we get is an enraged woman who’s had enough. Fennell cheerfully taps into signposts of a toxic culture and follows them to their logical and violent end. Thanks to her formula-busting screenplay, the film goes down easy, like candy-coated gall.
— James Greenberg