Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★½

PYW never quite walks or talks like you think it will and so much the better. It's odd to think about this in terms of Best Picture nominees. Its inclusion is somewhat based on the time and the place and also an expansion on Oscar's definition of a Best Picture after getting extra stodgy for a couple decades. The disreputable grindhouse tradition seems a more appropriate category, but that's another boys' club it doesn't quite fit into.

The scenes follow a strict guideline on who gets presented as a victim. This has the downside of introducing some annoying ambiguity around exactly what Cassie does to whom, but it also keeps the movie from following the same tired and disingenuous steps of the revenge thriller (act violently, regret it, rinse, repeat). PYW stays out of that trap when keeping Cassie's modus operandi vague at the start and by her taking revenge on behalf of another person. But the clear desire to connect to the #TimesUp era can also make these decisions feel like glancing blows.

While not free of first time director wobbles - the camera placement in a key moment with Alfred Molina is one of few choices that diminishes a scene - Emerald Fennell's navigation of some genre roulette is her greatest strength here. A great Carey Mulligan performance, with support from an also great if lower register Bo Burnham, brings all the plausibility we need to a scenario that at times strays quite far from plausibility. Their scenes generate an unexpected whiff of romance given the dark heart the movie wears on its sleeve. We don't expect a movie that begins with ruthless focus to also get sweet or that it might stray from its original point.

And the surprises continue. I won't say any more, but the movie's twists make it worth the watchlist, whether you like them or not. It's the kind of film you'll need to talk out after the lights come up, and that makes it succeed.

The_Ploughman liked this review