Promising Young Woman





Carey Mulligan’s enigmatic agenda pays dividends in the year’s most troubling, original, entertaining, ironic and accomplished genre-bender.


Promising Young Woman

Promises, promises: Carey Mulligan off her face?


Make no mistake, this film is confronting. From the pre-credit sequence of Cassie (Carey Mulligan) lolling drunkenly in a nightclub alone; being ushered back to smooth operator Jerry’s (Adam Brody’s) NY apartment for a nightcap; then snapping back to sobriety to challenge his sexual presumption, Promising Young Woman takes no prisoners. It’s a #MeToo date rape movie that goes beyond mere revenge. Via Cassie’s covert mission, driven by an alluded to life-shattering experience that derailed her all-but-guaranteed future success, we see how non-consensual sex plays out IRL. Here’s the vile reality of how women are so easily abused for the crime of being drunk in a club.

Cassie not only coolly remonstrates her male attackers once her drunken deception has been revealed: complicit women are similarly challenged. There’s payback for Dean Walker’s (Connie Britton’s) pitiful bystander actions in service to sinister college policy on date rape complaints, which encapsulate the disgraceful reputation-saving responses that we’ve seen on numerous real-life campuses. Cassie similarly targets Alison Brie’s excruciatingly judgemental middle-class Madison, who represents the women implicated in decrying rape claims and the structural sexism that produces them. 


Promising Young Woman is not subtle, but frankly why should it be when nuanced onscreen representations of rape still get missed by both critics and audiences alike (with the former arguably more to blame in our mediatory role)? 2014’s It Follows and its rape-by-deception was the subject of peer-reviewed analysis that found fewer than 7% of critics perceived the film as depicting rape. Perhaps no surprise then that writer, producer and director Emerald Fennell, with head writer credits for Killing Eve, uses her edgy female-storytelling credentials to ensure no viewer is in any doubt as to this film’s political message. And like Killing Eve, it does so with momentum and dynamism that ensures there is dark comedy amidst the misogynistic bleakness. Mulligan once again shines portraying Cassie’s quiet determination and tragically tortured soul. You’re passionately rooting for her tentative relationship with former med-school classmate Ryan, played to perfection by Bo Burnham, to move her on from her well-intentioned but dangerous project.


Recent ill-judged debate about Mulligan not being ‘hot’ enough to pull off this role is further evidence that a bold film on a subject historically represented by increasingly questionable cinematic tropes is seemingly still over the heads of some viewers. Cassie is no femme fatale – she is surely the exact opposite. Her actions epitomise how a woman in her least appealing state, is more likely to have a predatory man take her home and force himself on her – precisely because he knows she’s in no fit state to say no. That’s rape, and this film powerfully considers what these women, whose stories continue to be passed over more often than not, suffer and lose at the hands of these predators. It provides a window into how society enables these same abusers to spin a convenient reality that keeps their ‘promising young’ lives on track – no matter how heinous the crime – whilst the impact on their victims is so easily dismissed. This is a brilliant piece of 21st century socio-political cinema that does what it clearly set out to do. Whilst some critics seem currently unhelpfully intent on pondering what it doesn’t do, such is the apparent need for novel female storylines to be reviewed from a place of lack, I’m confident Promising Young Woman will be increasingly venerated over the years. Bring it on.




Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Molly Shannon, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Sam Richardson, Steve Monroe, Raymond Nicholson, Gabriel Oliva, Alfred Molina, Emerald Fennell (fellatio expert).


Dir Emerald Fennell, Pro Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox and Emerald Fennell, Ex Pro Carey Mulligan and Alison Cohen, Screenplay Emerald Fennell, Ph Benjamin Kracun, Pro Des Michael Perry, Ed Frédéric Thoraval, Music Anthony Willis, Costumes Nancy Steiner, Dialect coach Tim Monich.


FilmNation Entertainment/LuckyChap Entertainment-Universal Pictures.

113 mins. UK/USA. 2020. Rel: 16 April 2021. Cert. 15.