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Review: ‘Promising Young Woman’ is the Best Revenge Film Since ‘Gone Girl’

"Can you guess what every women’s worst nightmare is?"

Preying upon drunk women is something men have been doing for a long time. In the early stages of Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell exposes that as she sets the scene with a drunk Cassandra (Cassie) and a middle-aged man Jerry. Jerry is on the prowl after his friends practically dare him to take an opportunity to go after her.

In this film, Fennell exposes the culture surrounding young teenagers and college boys who prey upon women and get away with it in a really remarkable way. She also addresses the simple “get over it vibe” that comes along with this as well as victim-blaming that we see far too often. One of the most powerful scenes is when this happens as a woman gets the blame for being too drunk.

Although this story’s backbone is a revenge tale, the heart of the story is a friendship between Cassie and Nina. Cassie’s struggling to let go of years of regret for not protecting her friend. She can’t forgive herself. The evolving story of that friendship is powerful, moving and poetically heartbreaking because all she wants to do is make things right.

Then we meet Ryan, a charming classmate of Cassandra’s. The two have instant chemistry, they’re both somewhat awkward but with vibrant personalities, once they open up. When Cassie starts to do just that, it’s a pivotal moment in the film. We see that what ultimately destroyed her was allowing her wall to be broken down. Then, what transpires isn’t just the redemption she was seeking. It’s also revenge for sharing pieces of herself with someone that she never thought she could.

To say I was impressed with the range of Carey Mulligan (Cassie) would be an understatement. Ideally, you need perfect casting for this type of film to work with this story and Mulligan is the perfect casting. Cassandra is a good person filled with a lot of hate because of what happened to her friend. She also has these unique character traits that Mulligan enhances with perfection. From the way she talks and the ability to change her tone of voice depending on the circumstances to the way she carries herself, Mulligan fully embodies this role. She manages to deliver everything that Fennell wanted from the character. And she’s a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination.

The film stood out for this performance but also because of its fast-paced, in your face, loud music. That’s also how Fennell manages to close it with one of the best third acts of any film this year. It shows a visceral, cold-blooded, hardcore side of Cassandra, set to the tone of an orchestra version of “Toxic.” Fennell took a massive risk with how she would end this film. The payoff isn’t stereotypical of what we are used to seeing in Hollywood — and I love it. 

In closing, revenge is a game that Hollywood has played on repeat for a lot of years but Fennell had other things in mind with this revenge story. She tells the story of best friends, love, redemption, power and does so in a breathtaking way from start to finish. The way she weaves in and out upon the story is something that not many people are capable of doing and the little nuances of which she utilizes throughout the film will demand several watches. 

Want to see the film for free? Register for the virtual screening on Jan. 14 here.

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