Revenge is an interesting subject. We’ve all felt wronged or angered by someone else’s suffering and it is cathartic to see revenge exacted upon parties responsible for injustice, but the dark side of revenge is that it destroys the avenger as much as anyone. This idea is cunningly brought forward in Promising Young Woman, an exceptional film written and directed by Emerald Fennel.
In the film, Carrie Mulligan plays a woman consumed by revenge for the loss of a dear friend who was raped and subsequently lost the will to live, destroyed by the event. As Cassandra, she goes out clubbing, pretending to get drunk in order to trick men into revealing their predatory intentions when pretending to look out for the defenseless maiden and then dealing out some sort of punishment.
It’s a great hook and the film plays things with a great sense of ickiness at the creep factor on display. These guys always imagine themselves as nice guys and the casting of familiar faces known for nice guy roles, such as Adam Brody, goes a long way. Cassandra does develop a relationship with a pediatric surgeon played by Bo Burnham but the film is ultimately nihilistic and love cannot last. The most tragic figures in the movie are Cassandra’s parents, played with wonderful empathy and love by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown, long-suffering to see their daughter’s listlessness ever since the loss of her friend.
The film is really good. It moves along at a good pace, never lingering too long on the unpleasantries. It’s very funny but icky and dark at the same time, which is a really interesting blend, and ultimately tragic for all parties. I found all of the characters relatable and I really liked the unexpected turn of Alfred Molina as a lawyer facing a crisis. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as the central character, carrying the film very ably with a haunted confidence as she slowly exacts revenge after years of plotting, someone whose motivations you can understand but is told again and again by those around her, including the victim’s mother (an understated Molly Shannon) to move on.
I really like Promising Young Woman. I think it is a smart, funny yet tragic movie that is more than just a revenge film. I loved how it challenged me and made me squirm while also kind of giggling at the same time, not a lot of movies can do that to me. I highly recommend it.