When Britney Spears sang “A Guy Like You Should Carry A Warning” in her 2003 banger “Toxic”, the track seemed like a wink to a certain kind of recklessness that often comes with the hedonistic euphoria of “Really”. really like someone. If you dig deeper into the “Toxic” lyrics, it’s clear that, like so many pop songs from the early ’00s, they exist within the blurry lines between affection and obsession and between denial and approval. It is fitting that the song about a “poison paradise” in Emerald Fennell’s poison plays such a central role Promising young woman.
A revenge tale that attacks with chaotic vigor how sexual assault is discussed, judged, and rejected by a deeply patriarchal American society. Promising young woman is designed as a provocation. As the aptly named Cassandra, Carey Mulligan praises this Brand Molotov cocktail with a wink and a grin in possibly the strongest performance of her career.
Production designer Michael Perry brings to life a world of adult playgrounds – nightclubs, bars, bachelorette parties – where toxic masculinity can flourish, while costume designer Nancy Steiner imagines the female outfits to counteract these spaces. (Don’t be surprised if you see a lineup of candy striper costumes inspired by this movie on the 2021 Halloween festivities when we return to the festivities at that time.) The brightly rendered details and mulligans Full-necked performance complements a movie that may not ultimately be as groundbreaking as Fennell thinks it is gender roles and heterosexual dynamics. But their brutal approach is undeniably satisfactory.
Promising young woman starts with a fuzzy “fuck her,” and every subsequent minute of the film unwraps and then attacks, the occasional misogyny that leads to such a layoff. A trio of brothers complain about a co-worker and how they can no longer go to strip clubs because of their whining. Then they look for a woman in trouble. She can’t sit up straight. Your clothes go up. She cannot string a sentence together. “You’re putting yourself at risk, girls like this,” they say, and the mood is fake concern first, then wolf opportunity.
But Cassandra (Mulligan) is not a victim in the expected way. She can take care of herself. Every Friday night she puts on a different outfit (sometimes revealing, sometimes not), does her makeup (sometimes smeared, sometimes not) and goes to another nightclub, bar, or restaurant where she plays the role of a virgin in Not plays and waits for men who are callous or predatory enough to take the bait. Her self-help mission has been going on for years – ever since she dropped out of medical school, moved home, and took a job in a coffee shop. The abrupt change is a mystery to almost everyone. Her parents don’t understand why their daughter, who was once at the top of her class, is now back in her nursery at 30. Most of her old classmates have forgotten her. Even Gail (Laverne Cox), Cassandra’s boss in the café and her only friend, doesn’t understand what she’s doing with her life.
As Promising young woman Fennell’s script slowly dissolves Cassandra’s motivations and guiding principles, creating an uncomfortable balance. On the one hand, some of the movie’s most enjoyable moments also come from the least hanging fruit, like the way Cassandra annoys a group of callers by stopping and staring at them. Your quiet judgment is enough to turn your suggestions into ridicule. Or Mulligan’s voice, which drops an octave lower when she disembowels a movie brother who patronizes her by saying men don’t like women wearing too much makeup. (“That whole soul-sucking system that is supposed to suppress women sucks,” says the man trying to shove her into bed.) Or how Cassandra spits in a dismissive customer’s drink and then serves it to him with a smile.
These scenarios aren’t exactly nuanced, but Fennell gives voice to desperation, pure and just treated like a sexual object, and Mulligan lives and breathes that anger. (Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book Missoula: University Town Rape and Justice occurs to me more than once when Cassandra recalls her experiences in medical school.) So much for Promising young woman is a fantasy in response to socially inflicted fainting, and when those moments hit, they hit hard.
Mulligan is the tornado at the center of this film, and her performance combines so many qualities that she has already mastered in her other work: her silence as Irene in journey, her girlish innocence as Jenny in An apprenticeship, her fearlessness as a sissy in shameand her despair as Jeanette in Wildlife. Mulligan sparkles against everyone in the deep supporting cast, which includes many actors most involved with their screen time: Clancy Brown as Cassandra’s worried father, Bo Burnham as her love interest in pediatric surgeons, Cox as Cassandra’s gently censuring boss and friend, and Alfred Molina makes his best impression of Tom Wilkinson Michael Clayton.
And Fennell’s casting of former internet friends like Adam Brody, Max Greenfield and Chris Lowell is subversive and shows how artificial the nice guy’s persona is.
But there is an unevenness in the way Promising young woman flirts with the idea that Cassandra is an imperfect victim. Fennell’s film would be bolder and more uncomfortable if she were more certain about Cassandra’s cruelty towards women who behave in ways that engage in male violence. The black and white nature of the film’s separation between male and female fault ignores many of the grays of the real world. But the way has a certain logic Promising young woman focuses his anger and how he positions Cassandra to manipulate the fear and panic that comes from being in a “he-said-she-said” position. While the portrayal of misogyny and misandry in the film isn’t as unique as Fennell might like to think, both the uniqueness of her vision and the fearlessness of Mulligan’s performance are admirable. Defects and everything Promising young woman is fully self.
Promising young woman Debuts in theaters on December 25th. You can find information on theater security and COVID-19 in your area in our complete instructions on current theater protocols and risks.