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Film Review: Promising Young Woman (2021)

IMDb Link: Promising Young Woman (2020)
Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie

Synopsis: A young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against those who crossed her path.

Even though the film is only about to drop in the UK, it still feels like I am late to the conversation. What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said hundreds of times by many other publications? What can I specifically say in this review that will sell my love for this film? Considering how much I have gone on about this film on my social media feed, I feel like most people who read this will have heard me gush about this film and these specific aspects numerous times. However, I am not going to let an opportunity to talk about my love for this film slide.

From the opening sequence, up to the moment the title credits appear, the film is already doing a lot to establish the tone and journey that we are going to take. There are reviews and even Wikipedia summaries that go into detail on what the film is actually handling and the tragic event that our leading character Cassie has to deal with, but I am not going to go into detail here as I was glad I went into the film with little information. Director Emerald Fennell takes her time to give the audience these little pieces of information throughout, and it is getting these pieces that help make the film so beautifully paced.

Recently, there has been a trend of films splitting up into “chapters”, and for a majority of the time I really dislike the trend. It makes the film feel jumpy, losing the pacing and trying to be more episodic than natural in the runtime. However, Emerald Fennell absolutely nails the chapter formula as there is a clear theme and style for these chapters. They don’t have horrible subtitles on them, they don’t cut the pacing of the story, and instead they are used to signal a major moment in the narrative, keeping a theme with the same numbering style as the tally marks in Cassie’s notebook.

Being titled Promising Young Woman, it is clear that a majority of the film is going to be spent on our leading lady. Who better to have in the lead of this film than Carey Mulligan, who is exceptional as Cassie. It is hard enough to sell a film almost by yourself but to do so with a role that is extremely complex and has a plot that is this emotional and tough to go through. The casting doesn’t stop there though, as the casting of Bo Burnham as Ryan is perhaps the best casting choice of the entire year. This is not only to do with his capabilities as an actor but the expectations we have of Ryan because of Burnham’s personality and how that says a lot about some of the themes explored later on in the film.

The look of this film is absolutely stunning as no details are left behind. Many of us have become quite familiar with Cassie’s nurse look, something that says a lot more in the narrative than being a fun costume but is it the more mundane aspects of the film that help bring this world to life. The coffee shop that Cassie works at, Make Me Coffee, is so beautiful and as a barista, I just simply want to work there. I also want to own Cassie’s wardrobe as the pastels and pink colours help contrast against the darker and more mature outfits she wears in the evening, helping to separate the different lifestyles that Cassie has through some really simple designs.

Finally, I do want to touch on the themes within the film and the controversy that has come about for the handling of the plot. Having read criticisms of how the main plot and particularly the final scenes were handled, I understand why some people felt like it did not work and this is something that is subjective. When giving positive responses to a film like this, it is important to acknowledge that it does not work for everyone and they should not be invalidated for their opinions. For me, this film does work thematically and makes itself clear on what the themes are, what the purpose of telling this story is, and why it is important to tell it now. The choices that Emerald Fennell makes on what not to show the camera, what is important for the audience to see, and why the film has to end the way it does to get the message across as well as it does. This is a story that works from the first moment to the last.

I simply cannot believe that this is a feature directorial debut from Emerald Fennell. For this story to be told the way it was, led by a fantastic performance from Carey Mulligan and through so many smart choices from start to finish, Promising Young Woman is easily one of the best films of the year. It may have felt like a long wait since the US release in December, but get ready to turn on your screens and be taken on this journey for two hours.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Promising Young Woman is available to watch on Sky Cinemas and NowTV from April 16th.

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