Promising Young Woman Review: Earnest Performances and Emotions

Rape-revenge thrillers usually present women as a prostitute, rather than showing the vandalism of men correctly. Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman proves to be very different and effective at this point. Her heroine is a morally righteous, determined person, with a broader, meaningful ground. 

The film begins with men dancing in the bar. Usually, such scenes depict the poise of women. In a scenario change, we watch men instead, as the camera explicitly focuses on their bellies and their nearly insulting moves. If you haven’t seen the trailer (which I recommend you don’t), the film will hook you immediately from the beginning.


Carey Mulligan’s character, Cassie, happens to be the most disparate of all vengeful women characters portrayed so far. We learn the reason for her grudge against the men very soon and understand why she does what she does. Her rampaging routine gets interrupted once a familiar face shows up and asks her for a date. What happens rest is for you to know.

Plotwise, Promising Young Woman is pretty stale. It is a story that has been told many times, particularly in Bollywood. But considering such films showcase their women incorrectly, this film benefits greatly. Credit goes to Emerald Fennell, who has both written and directed the movie. This is her directorial debut, and her work is commendable. 

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The film never deviates from its subject. Fennell has showcased the atrocities of men towards women with great integrity. She succeeds in expressing the real definition of ‘gentle’ in gentleman. Various scenes render deterrents to toxic masculinity, and Mulligan’s performance is terrific in each of those scenes.

The film, in fact, would seem mediocre without Carey Mulligan’s unsparing act. The story entirely revolves around her character, and I doubt there is any scene without her inclusion. This allows us to remain connected with her character and understand her perceptions effectively at every turn of the story. 

In the second half, when a narrative twist arrives, Mulligan’s performance is absolutely phenomenal. 

Another subtle aspect of the film is the fairly-grounded portrayal of Cassie’s personal life. Such stories often ignore the daily routine of the characters, dissuading the audience from connecting with them. In Promising Young Woman, to some extent, we get to taste the apparent hardships of living a double life, which comes as refreshing. Had this layer been realised more profoundly, the impact could have been even better.

The film is also quite unpredictable, especially during the final act. It is not entirely praiseworthy, provided the story becomes too dramatic by the end. While the climax succeeds, loud and clear, the narrative falters in continuing the film’s rational approach. The conclusion also compels you to rethink some key scenes from the second act, which starts feeling absurd due to the denouement.


Promising Young Woman features a variety of familiar faces. Bo Burnham, as Cassie’s love interest, Ryan, is quite apt for the role. He and Mulligan share good chemistry. A considerable amount of dark humour springs up as their relationship develops. The pace, however, slows down, once the narrative solely directs to their relationship. And it only picks up for a foreseeable plot twist.


Alfred Molina, aka Doctor Octopus, from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 also appears in one scene and makes his character instantly memorable through his superb acting. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge play Cassie’s parents, and they do very well. Alison Brie is also suitably good in her role as Cassie’s college friend, while Chris Lovell plays the culprit, Al Monroe. His performance is pivotal in one of the film’s final moments, and he is excellent (watch out for his expressions).

The film also has several songs, most of which appear inappropriate. Though this has become a norm to amplify a situation’s atmosphere, it would have been better if Fennell endeavoured for a good score. Her writing is also quite imbalanced. The film changes gears many times from a dead-serious tone to romantic comedy. She may have aimed to show Cassie’s fragile mental state, but her perspective results in being indecipherable for the most part.

Overall, Promising Young Woman is a good film that succeeds in showcasing men’s deplorable mindset towards women. It remains an engaging watch from start to finish, primarily, for Carey Mulligan’s outstanding performance, which deserves Oscar nomination.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

PS. The film is R-rated and inappropriate for kids and teenagers.

Mayank Nailwal
Passionate about films & filmmaking since 2002.
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