Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★

Promising Young Woman is certainly one of the more thought-provoking films I've seen in 2020. I went on a roller coaster of emotion throughout this film, and what I mean by that is I wasn't really sure what I thought of the film as a whole until it ended. I have so many thoughts about this film that there's no way I can cram them all in here, but I'll do my best.

When it comes to films with a "message" that's aimed at a certain demographic, I tend to find that they can come off as shaming the demographic they're aiming at. This is a big problem I have with Christian films like God's Not Dead where the point is supposed to be spreading the word of said religion but instead, they bash the very same people they're trying to spread the word to, thus the message is lost. And I think this film could've easily gone down the "All men are completely horrible and irredeemable monsters" path and could've easily lost its footing in going so. But thankfully, writer/director Emerald Fennell skillfully walks that tightrope to deliver a stylistic, in-your-face dark comedy that doesn't talk down to its audience but rather asks them to put themselves in the shoes of our leading lady, Cassie, played marvelously by Carey Mulligan in one of the best performances of her career and one of the best of the year. It takes a simple revenge premise and shakes it up a bit, crafting a compelling narrative that knows how to deliver a powerful message in a way that doesn't feel too preachy or demeaning, which is a very hard task to pull off in a film such as this.

The film takes a very sensitive and touchy subject matter and knows how to use it for sympathy and for laughs, but never in a distasteful way. Fennell creates a lot of suspense here too, particularly around the film's finale, which is one of the best of the year and it completely subverted my expectations. The film kept me in its grasp for pretty much the entire runtime, as it keeps the audience on their toes even when they have an idea of what's to come. The film is also surprisingly hilarious, particularly when it came to Mulligan and Burnham's interactions, as the two play off of each other wonderfully and make for a great duo. But when the film needs to get serious, it's able to do it without feeling heavy-handed or abrupt. The tone is kept very consistent, which is rare for a film juggling this many tonal shifts.

As for my flaws with the film, I definitely have a few. Pretty much every man in the film (minus Bo Burnham's Ryan to some extent) is a very obvious stereotype there to serve the film's agenda, which is fine, but the writing for them is almost a bit too abrasive, even for a film as bombastic and in-your-face as this one, that I couldn't always take it seriously. And for a film as stylish as this, there is a lot of shot-reverse-shot cinematography, and certain scenes could've used a little more flair to heighten the tension during some of the conversation scenes. There's also a reveal in the film that, while I definitely saw it coming, I really didn't want to happen, and it just didn't really work for me when it eventually did unfold itself. That being said, the ending would not have had the impact that it did if this had been left out of the film, so there's no good way to fix it.

As a whole, I dug the heck out of Promising Young Woman. I don't think it's perfect by any means, but it makes for a fun and important watch and an impressive piece of filmmaking that I am excited to revisit.
GRADE: B+

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