Promising Young Woman (2020): I Promise, This Is Thrilling

“Promising Young Woman” is written and directed by Emerald Fennell (The Crown, Call the Midwife), and this is her feature length directorial debut. This film stars Carey Mulligan (An Education, Drive), Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade, The Big Sick), Alison Brie (The Disaster Artist, Glow), Clancy Brown (The Goldbergs, Billions), Jennifer Coolidge (American Pie, Joey), Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black, TRANSform Me), and Connie Britton (Spin City, Nashville). This film follows a young woman, like the title suggests, as she tries to get revenge on people she finds herself coming across after reflecting on an event from her past.

This holiday has brought a couple big movies to the masses, “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Soul.” I’ve seen the latter, and it is good. Not great, but good. Although it is a disappointment by Pixar standards. I also saw “Wonder Woman 1984,” but I won’t share my thoughts yet as it is going to be my next review. These two big films are not specifically theatrical exclusives in the United States. “Wonder Woman 1984” is playing on the big screen wherever theaters are open and on HBO Max while “Soul” is exclusively on Disney+. On the other hand, “Promising Young Woman” is a film that is currently a theatrical exclusive (even though it should land on VOD soon). What did I think of “Promising Young Woman?”

I think “Promising Young Woman” is a damn good time. If anything, I was quite surprised with how it turned out. Partially because the way I interpreted the film, given how I knew there was a revenge plot in it, would happen to be sort of similar to John Wick, but with vastly different issues at hand. But it is not, the beauty of the film is not in the physicality, not in the things people do, not in the action. After all, if you go in expecting a “John Wick”-like action film, your expectations may be a little subverted. The beauty of “Promising Young Woman” lies within a couple aspects. The dialogue, most of which was good. And the editing, all of which was excellent. This film is edited marvelously and provides for a unique flair at times. They take a slight core aspect of the film and use it to separate key moments, and the execution for this feels bold and manages to be delivered with a commanding presence.

By the way, this film is edited by Frédéric Thoraval, who has experience with editing not only a revenge story, but one of the best revenge stories ever filmed, with 2008’s “Taken.” “Promising Young Woman” is another killer flick to add to his resume. Then again, he also edited 2018’s “Peppermint,” which basically is kinda sorta “Taken” except that Jennifer Garner is in the spotlight, not Liam Neeson. And as an overall revenge story, it leaves much to be desired. I’ll say, Thoraval did a fine editing job, however. With the editing in “Promising Young Woman,” a lot the highlights seem to spark from a personal touch from director Emerald Fennell. A touch that only she could have conceptualized. However, it does not take away from the fact that the editing seems to make for one of the best parts of the film.

Let’s talk about the main character of the film, Cassandra. First off, Carey Mulligan is going to be a talk of the town during awards season. She knocked her performance out of the park, and she also looked the part too. Her character lives at home with her parents despite being at a crucial point in her twenties, and she does not seem to have any desire to leave. Speaking of desires, we see early on in the film that Cassandra does not have a lust for anyone else. We see that when she goes out to a nightclub, and what happens afterwards that sort of plays a crucial part in the film. We also see this with her interactions with Ryan, played wonderfully by Bo Burnham. Although she does keep herself occupied by working in a coffee shop, so she has that going for her. At the same time however, Cassandra had a path for herself building up in medical school, but she dropped out. In fact, the film even establishes that Cassandra’s parents are worried for her, they want her out of their life, they want her to meet a guy, fall in love, move out. They even get her a gift that basically symbolizes this. She gets the message right away.

One of my favorite screenwriters is Quentin Tarantino, not only because of his personal touch with each script he does, but also because in a film like “Pulp Fiction,” it basically makes fun of not only how movie scenes play out, but maybe even taps into how reality plays out. There’s this scene where Uma Thurman and John Travolta are eating together at a diner and they talk about awkward silences. That’s a fun scene that pokes at the way we communicate. There are one or two moments early on that evoke the same vibe. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it lands, it lands.

Except for a few minor problems that I have with certain lines that maybe do not fit, “Promising Young Woman” delivers one of the better screenplays of the year, and part of why I love it so much is not only because it sort of taps into our reality where it dives into why some men are pigs, why women want to defend themselves, but also because of how subversive it is. Yes, I talked earlier about how I went into “Promising Young Woman” sort of expecting “John Wick” with different issues at hand, and that’s not entirely what I got. Now I should say, I view “John Wick” as a quintessential modern thriller, so that’s part of why I used that example. But that’s not what I’m talking about. This movie has twists and turns, none of them feel shoehorned, forced. or out of place. I feel like this is a story that Emerald Fennell took her time on. This feels like a passion project. I have no idea if Fennell plans to make her career behind the camera as prominent, or perhaps more prominent, than the one she has in front of the camera. But if she is up to make another film, I am there. This was a good time.

In the end, “Promising Young Woman,” I promise you, is quite excellent. This had an intriguing beginning, some fun buildup, and a satisfyingly subversive ending. The cast offer some good performances, but Carey Mulligan is the star of the show and may be a talking point during awards season. If you like thrillers, if you like twists, if you like fine writing, and solid directing, do not miss this movie. I am glad I took the opportunity to see it, and I have a feeling many of you reading this will too. I am going to give “Promising Young Woman” a 9/10.

“Promising Young Woman” is now playing in theaters wherever they are open. There is currently no announced date for when this film will hit video on demand, but given how this film is from Focus Features, which is owned by Comcast, which also owns Universal, the film should debut on video on demand very soon.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the highly anticipated sequel “Wonder Woman 1984” which is now available in theaters and on HBO Max. I might also review one or two more films by the end of the year, possibly “Fatale” or “News of the World,” but we shall see what happens. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Promising Young Woman?” What did you think about it? Or, is there a movie that you’re looking forward to that could make some noise during awards season? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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