Promising Young Woman
- Karen Krizanovich
- 12 April 2021
Oscar nominations abound as Emerald Fennell directs Carey Mulligan in a blackly comic revenge tale
Nominated for a quintet of Academy Awards and rocking the vicious vivacity of its director's Killing Eve, this candy-coated revenge tale gives Carey Mulligan plenty of scope to transform. She's Cassie, a formerly promising young woman in her 30s, whose life was shelved after her best friend's death.
This med school drop-out lives with her parents Susan and Stanley (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) in their pastel rococo suburban American home. Working as a barista in a coffee shop run by Gail (Orange Is the New Black star and four-time Emmy nominee Laverne Cox), boyfriends, marriage, kids and career don't seem to matter anymore. Cassie has something else on her mind. She goes to clubs, pretends to be drunk, and sees what happens when 'nice guys' offer to take her home.
In some ways, the first feature from Killing Eve's season two showrunner Emerald Fennell (who also made quite the impression as Camilla in The Crown) doesn't show us anything we haven't seen before. But Carrie's trap is intriguing, a moral test to see if there are any genuinely good guys. She never says no but, crucially, she never says yes. When she serves coffee to Ryan (Bo Burnham, the writer-director of Eighth Grade), a romance begins. He knew her in medical school. She likes him enough and there is some crackling chemistry which threatens to take the story in a different direction. But happy-ever-after never really seems to be on the cards.
In the background, there are faces we know (Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Max Greenfield), while Mulligan is reunited with her An Education co-star Alfred Molina, who plays the guilty academic who awaits Cassie's rage. And we see how the supposedly friendly world is peppered with danger from those who pretend not to know better, and how women can be complicit too – here, the medical college's dean (Connie Britton) and Cassie's ex-schoolmate Madison (Alison Brie).
With eye-popping production design by Michael Perry (It Follows) and storming work from Mulligan, Promising Young Woman goes beyond interrogating dating culture to devastatingly compare the value of women's and men's lives. It may look a little like Clueless, but this is Clueless with fangs.
Available to watch on Sky Cinema from Fri 16 Apr.