“Promising Young Woman” begins with three guys at a bar, drinking and eyeing a woman slouched against a wall who appears to have had too much. After a couple of rounds of horribly misogynistic comments about her, one of them goes over, ostensibly to see if she’s okay, but really to prey on her.
Believing that she’s nearly blacked out, he bundles her into a cab, but instead of taking her home, drags her to his apartment. Inside, he gives her more alcohol and practically licks his lips at the prospect of having sex with her, despite her inability to consent. But as he’s rubbing and pulling her legs apart, she suddenly sits up, completely sober, and shames him for the way he’s treated her.
When the woman, Cassie, gets back to her apartment, she pulls out a small notebook and adds a tally mark and a name to a long list of other men she has encountered with the ugly truth about their behavior. It becomes obvious that Cassie’s been doing this out of revenge, but why? What dark moment in her past led to this?
I won’t even hint at the answers here, nor tell you any more about the plot, because “Promising Young Woman” is one of those movies you’re better off not knowing any more about before you see it.
As Cassie, Carey Mulligan is magnificent, giving her just the right edge as more of her motives are exposed. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen this year. Writer/director Emerald Fennell, fresh from season two of “Killing Eve” and playing Camilla Parker-Bowles on “The Crown,” gives Mulligan great material to work with. Fennell also keeps us wondering just how far Cassie’s vengeance will go, and whether she’ll ever find a way to suppress the memories that drive her action.
Though some may see “Promising Young Woman” as a modern-day “Fatal Attraction,” it’s not, because the story is told entirely from the perspective of a woman. None of the men in Cassie’s life — except her father — is worthy of admiration or empathy. Many of them are clichés right out of “bro” culture, willing to rape a woman just because she’s too drunk to say no.
The solid supporting ensemble includes Bo Burnham and Alison Brie as old friends from Cassie’s medical school days, Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge as her parents, and Laverne Cox as the coffee shop owner — plus Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, Molly Shannon, and an uncredited Alfred Molina.
I spent a lot of time thinking about “Promising Young Woman” after seeing it and hating the scumbags who treat Cassie (and any other woman) as targets, not people. It is a movie that will spark a lot of conversation, both about its content and Mulligan’s awards-worthy performance.
I give “Promising Young Woman” an 8.5 out of 10. It is available via video-on-demand.