By Laurie Coker
Doing effective wickedly dark comedy takes talent and writer-director, Emerald Fennell does it with a devilish flourish. Starring Carrey Mulligan, a Promising Young Woman, is a provocative, bleakly realistic revenge tale that digs deeply into serious issues. A clearly passionate lead actress and an excellent ensemble cast, coupled with Fennell’s well-woven and meticulously crafted story make A Promising Young Woman completely enthralling.
Mulligan fiercely tackles her role as Cassandra Thomas, a young woman who puts her life on hold when her best friend suffers and takes her own life after being gang raped and mentally dehumanized by a group of men. After dropping out of college, Cassandra lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) while working in a dead-end barista job. Her singular focus is to exact revenge on the group of friends responsible for the death of her friend. With pointed purpose, Cassie set the trap to ruin the lives of those involved. Mulligan artfully plays multiple Cassies – the broken victim of loss, a vulnerable young woman, a pathetic, slutty drunk, and a manipulating mastermind.
Fennell’s crisp, taut script gives Mulligan the reins of a wildly complex and mesmerizing character and Fennell has written a story that allows for Cassie’s revenge that isn’t about death to the perpetrators, but rather death to their reputations and their personal lives. Cassie is so broken that she cares little about anything, especially herself. Adding a subplot and another dimension to Cassie comes from Ryan (Bo Burnham) a handsome doctor with genuine interest in her He almost upends Cassie’s plans but her mental instability wins out over love or the possibility for happiness and a full life. She doesn’t just go after the rapists and hecklers, she goes after the lawyer (Alfred Molina) who defended them and the college dean (Connie Britton) who swept the affair under the rug. Each situation grows more and more tense and shocking and brings gasps. Perhaps, in the final scenario plausibility goes awry but there is still a cleverness to the end result – a sad, if not sick, satisfaction to the finale.
Tightly woven and rightly R-rated, A Promising Young Woman is nearly perfect filmmaking. Carey Mulligan deserves accolades for her performance. Fennell’s finale shocks and saddens and works to put faces on the players in such despicable circumstances that occur far too often in real life. A Promising Young Woman earns an A in the grade book. While painful at times to watch, the ironic dark absurdity of the events reveal a side of humanity we prefer not to see.