Now that Promising Young Woman is out on Blu, it’s the ideal opportunity to revisit Emerald Fennell’s buzzy, controversial Oscar nominated film.
Promising Young Woman is about Cassie (Carey Mulligan, exquisite), a seemingly direction-less woman living at home with her parents Stanley (Clancy Brown) and Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) after dropping out of law school. Cassie works at a small coffee-shop run by her supportive friend Gail (Laverne Cox), but her sardonic wit and blasé attitude are quickly revealed to be a mask for her grief and trauma.
In short time it is revealed that Cassie is far more than the aimless millennial her parents and friends believe her to be; she’s actually an avenging angel who has made it her mission to teach “nice guys” a lesson about rape culture.
Cassie’s rationale for embarking on this mission, as well as the details of why she targets particular people over the course of the film, has polarized audiences. This goes double for the film’s controversial ending, which finds Cassie donning a rainbow coloured wig and novelty nurse’s costume to crash a bachelor party.
Promising Young Woman has made an immediate pop cultural impact not just because it is confronting and upsetting, but because it is a rape/revenge film that doesn’t adhere to the conventions of the subgenre. Rather it challenges audiences to question our bloodlust and the broader real life culture that enables narratives such as this to be perpetuated.
From the superb opening sequence – a slow motion montage of men’s gyrating crotches dancing in a club – it’s evident that Promising Young Woman is interested in subverting the male gaze. This carries over into the strategic casting of some of the “nicest” actors in the biz, including Adam Brody, Bo Burnham, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Max Greenfield and Chris Lowell. The fact that all of these men are deliberately cast against type as liars, rapists and murderers is deliberate; Fennell weaponizes audience goodwill for these actors by holding a lens up to “nice guy” culture, revealing it to be not just lacking, but toxic.
Everything in Promising Young Woman – from the candy coloured production and costume design to the treacly pop confetti soundtrack to the smooth editing – is superbly executed by first time feature director Fennell, whose wit (and rage) radiates throughout. Finally, bonus points for utilizing Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” in an incredibly memorable karaoke/music video montage set in a convenience store.
The Blu has a few bonus features, including three featurettes and an audio commentary from the writer/director.
The featurettes include:
- Balancing Act, which talks about balancing the tones of the film.
- Two-Sided Transformation, which is basically about Mulligan’s performance.
- A Promising Vision, which is an overview of the story and themes.
Sadly the featurettes are too brief to be satisfying (none exceed five minutes). This leaves Fennell’s audio commentary to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s a good commentary, covering structure, production design, themes, music and the cast and characters.
Overall, however, the film begs for a more thorough and substantial release with special features befitting the film’s stature.
- Film: 4.5/5
- Blu: 3/5