Promising Young Woman is a dark film disguised as a comedy and deals with a subject matter that is increasingly more relevant, even more so after the me too movement. It deals heavily in that ring of the affect that rape can have on the people closest to the victim, and how the people that refuse to act are just as guilty as the harasser. It is an incredible ambitious debut film for new writer-director Emerald Fennell, and in lesser hands the film could have easily deteriorated into an overly propaganda-like film on the heavy subject. It isn't surprising that this film was up for Oscars as it is expertly crafted and paced beautifully, not to mention Carey Mulligan delivers the performance of her career as the vengeful Cassie.
The plot follows Cassie (Carey Mulligan) who daylights as a low end coffee shop barista and at night preys on the so called "nice guys." She will show up at a bar feigning a drunk appearance to lure guys, only to reveal that she is in fact not drunk once she is taken home. If they try to take advantage of her, she puts them in their place. Slowly over the course of the film we realize that she was once a promising medical student who suddenly vanished after an unidentified trauma involving her close friend. Night after night, she takes her vengeance on men and keeps collection of their names in a diary. One day at the coffee shop an ex classmate, Ryan (Bo Burnham), begins to court her and reveals that the people that caused her friend great trauma is back in town forcing her to rethink her strategy and spring into action against those that caused her and Nina so much pain.
Emerald Fennell deserves a lot of credit for how good this film is as it is paced beautifully and she allows time for the characters and story beats to breathe and resonate with the viewer. It also never delves too heavily into the thriller genre or comedy allowing the film to never be too dark nor too light. Again, in lesser hands, the film could have flopped into being a bit of a propaganda of "No means no" and instead is a rather heartfelt conversation with the viewer. It comes at a good time in which we are starting to move past the me too movement in which systems are in place to protect individuals that are fairly privileged after such heinous acts, for example Harvey Weinstein and such. For a writer and directorial debut, Fennell shows she has talent and surely will be someone to keep an eye on for her future films. The music also helps add an uneasy feeling to many of the scenes, frequently with a creepy rendition of Britney Spears "Toxic"and helps the viewers revel in watching Cassie get her twisted vengeance.
As for the actors, Carey Mulligan has always been a strong actress appearing in such films like Drive, An Education and other films but in Promising Young Woman she delivers her best performance of her young career. She not only is a bit threatening when preying on these predatorial and disgusting men, but she also shows vulnerability which allows us as the viewer to truly care and empathize with her. Her ability to turn vulnerable to vengeful is also incredible. At times by how her outfits change depending on the situation it almost makes her character seem as if she is a chameleon able to morph into whatever the situation calls for. This could also be a huge endorsement for a traffic costume designer, Nancy Steiner, who explained that she pictured the leading lady to be "disheveled" or "less-than put together" as after all she is depressed. Mulligan's co-star also delivers a strong performance as Bo Burnham, a comedian at heart and a rather good one at that, portrays plenty of boyish charm as Ryan. His chemistry and relationship with Mulligan's Cassie comes off very genuine and his charm gives the film a good bit of levity. Overall, they used his talents in a smart but also devious manner which delivers a strong debut starring role for the promising young actor (wink wink nudge nudge).