In the evolving genre of movies about avenging rape, Promising Young Woman offers an original approach. Forget macho Charles Bronson gun toting from Death Wish. Forget Uma Thurman’s martial arts kicks in the two Kill Bills. Forget graphic violence a la I Spit on Your Grave. With sly psychology, actress Carrie Mulligan’s title character turns the genre around in writer-director Emerald Fennell’s promising new movie.
Fennell explores the different ways men and women react to the same situations and events, from those famous sayings “Boys will be boys” to “she was asking for it.” Neither excuse works for the movie’s promising young woman, who sets out to upend abusive behavior. The character gives Mulligan the best role of her promising career, which started with a lead actress Oscar nomination for a 2009 movie called An Education. Mulligan looks ready to garner a new nod this year.
As Cassie, Mulligan shows a range of emotions and conditions, from dead drunk to new love’s giddiness. As someone who frequently dresses up and acts, Cassie provides a colorful and flashy role, yet one grounded in real and vulnerable emotions. Mulligan plays them well, pulling out the nuances in writer-director Fennell’s clever and disturbing script.
As if playing a poker game, Fennell reveals little about the real direction of her story, using a creative choice of pop tunes to both surprise and lighten the tone. After all, few people could take something like Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” song and turn it into a truly fun and engaging sequence. Other songs like “Boys,” “It’s Raining Men,” “Something Wonderful” from The King and I plus Juice Newton’s rendition of “Angel in the Morning” round out a strange but appropriate soundtrack that both suits and runs counterpoint to action.
The music choices reflect Fennell’s skill at blending opposite traits. Both blatant and subtle in the points it makes, Promising Young Woman stands tall as a troubling and rewarding film. The movie plays in local theaters and heads to steaming services later this month.