Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★½

"I'm a nice guy."
"Are you?"

Brett Kavanaugh probably wouldn't like this a whole lot.

An astonishingly assured debut feature from writer/director Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman is exactly the type of movie your dad is hoping he never accidentally sees, lest he have to confront some very deep-rooted demons within him. Carey Mulligan stars -- despite one Variety critic's desire -- in a bold darkly comic thriller born out of the #MeToo era. Slut-shaming, consent, and revenge fantasies converge in her boundary-pushing role, sure to enrage Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, or most 22-year-old straight men who act their shoe size and whose dicks would shrivel at the sight of a woman with independence and ambition.

Cassie Thomas (Mulligan) makes ends meet working at a coffee shop, but still lives with her parents Stanley (Clancy Brown) and Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) figuring out her next life step. A previous medical school student, the rape of her childhood friend Nina there made Cassie quit for good when no one believed the victim. Enraged, now Cassie makes use of her charm and looks to lure men every night at bars, pretending to be intoxicated and easily manipulated into sex. Each weekend as they take her home, she confronts the men before any act can transpire, noting their names and faces.

Soon she reconnects with an old friend from med school, Ryan (Bo Burnham), now a doctor himself. She's reluctant to get close, but Ryan's a sweet and genuine guy so maybe it's worth a shot. However, meeting with him brings up other classmates she blames for Nina's rape never being believed; one of those, Madison (Alison Brie), spurs Cassie to enact a new plan: revenge on those who have wronged her and Nina, one by one.

Featuring young men who quickly mention their David Foster Wallace fandom immediately tells you that Emerald Fennell knows exactly what she's doing in her screenplay. Men who think they're nice men, but also women who think they're allies. So many are part of the problem in the real world and in the world of Promising Young Woman, but this story manages to go in fascinatingly unpredictable directions that knowing any more of the plot would be a crime. Head-spinning twists are commonplace, but more remarkable are the subtle moments of subversion that most films don't dare to try.

I will tell you that a Paris Hilton song playing on a pharmacy PA system marks a pivotal turning point. Really.

Switching genres on a dime from rom-com to message drama to dark thriller, the film will keep you guessing but may leave you at a loss for words. It feels like the type of movie that is impossible to talk about but impossible not to. Pitch perfect choices in music, characters, actors, staging, story, you will be immediately pulling up your contacts and wondering "wait, are any of them nice guys?"

I will say that it has this reviewer looking back to his 20s when he did some supremely fucked up shit. "Just kids" definitely isn't good enough. While I've paid for my mistakes and trespasses, I don't deserve forgiveness for them. It's just another reminder that those who were hurt remain so, and I'll forever be atoning for it.

Added to The Narrative Films of 2020, ranked.
Added to 2021 Independent Spirit Awards nominees, ranked.
Added to 2021 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.

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