Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★

(I saw this in a theatre while in Maine. For a full description of the circumstances, see my TENET review as it was the same theatre. My mom and I were the only people at the showing).

Emerald Fennell must’ve seen IT CHAPTER TWO and said, “that’s now how you do a needle drop of ‘Angel of the Morning’, THIS is how you do a needle drop of ‘Angel of the Morning’”

Anyone who follows me here knows I love the crazy thrillers of the 80s/90s that have mostly disappeared in Hollywood filmmaking as any mid-budget films basically need to be a guaranteed awards contender, which those rarely were, and I’ve been watching a lot as of late. Well, first time director Fennell (or as she’s known to my mother, Nurse Patsy from Call the Midwife) has brought them roaring back. With all their loud and shocking goodness.

The film’s themes are certainly obvious in parts, if you’ve seen the trailer you know what I mean, but Fennell is not just here to lecture. For this film goes farther than just showing things we already know about society’s trivialization of sexual assault, instead showing how pervasive it is in every nook and cranny. Indeed, where so many films would pull back and use cinema for cleaner resolutions, as in many rape revenge films, she pushes forward. All in all she paints a fully misanthropic vision that asks us if there is any possible solution to a world so corrupt except to burn it down.

And yet, any fears of didacticism are mostly put to rest because this has such richer character depth than all that sounds. Carey Mulligan’s, in a performance so outstanding that it may traverse the genre expectations of this and earn her an Oscar nomination, character is never shown as a pure hero. Her warpath of revenge is a self-destructive, but inescapable, journey at every turn. Just because the film shows this is something that needs to be done does not automatically mean it is holy (perverse shoutouts to Christian iconography abound) and the film leaves enough gray area that I’ve already seen it raise debate among people (in the best way possible).

Mulligan is surrounded by a parade of great supporting performances, especially Alfred Molina in one scene that shows there can be forgiveness but only with self-realization and penance. But the star is Fennell, with her constant managing of shocking twists (multiple audible gasps to be had) and a furious passion that at times recalls Abel Ferrara. Plus, there is the pop look of this with big colors, ironic soundtracking, and a top notch score by Anthony Willis that channels Bernard Herrmann by way of Jerry Goldsmith. The film leans into all of this so if something seems too good to be true, that’s likely because it will soon be revealed to be just that. 

There are some parts that are not as clever as other and a couple bumps in the plot progression but by and large this is such an energetic and well-crafted thriller all concluding in in absolutely amazing ending that its rapturous reception despite some controversial moves is not surprising at all. I’ve been waiting for movies like this to get this level of support again for a long time. Here’s hoping Hollywood keeps giving Fennell the money to make more of them.

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