★★★★★ - STUFF
- Carey Mulligan stuns in this audacious, astonishing tale -
Melancholia, Under the Skin, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Handmaiden.
Only a handful of movies in the past decade have left me awestruck by their originality, powerful storytelling, memorable characters, jaw-dropping twists and/or stunning combination of sound and vision. Films that left me buzzing and desperate to share my experience with anybody who will listen.
So I say thank you to the gentleman and his partner beside me at the preview of Emerald Fennell’s audacious, astonishing debut feature as we discussed, disseminated and decompressed what we had just seen for at least 10 minutes.
A former Call the Midwife regular (she played Nurse Patsy Mount between 2013 and 2017) and The Crown’s current Camilla Parker-Bowles, Fennell was also showrunner for the second season of acclaimed TV series Killing Eve. She brings that show’s same sense of black comedy and genre-mashing to this stunning tale of revenge.
A kind of a Kill Bill for the #MeToo Era, it features an absolutely barnstorming performance from Carey Mulligan. Originally seen as a period drama specialist, thanks to her star-making debut in An Education and terrific turns inThe Great Gatsby, Suffragette and Far From the Madding Crowd, this demonstrates the depth of the talent and her ability to carry a movie almost single-handed. If she doesn’t feature heavily during the upcoming awards season, then something is deeply rotten in the state of showbusiness today.
Perhaps somewhat undercutting the movie’s title, she plays the seemingly directionless Cassie Thomas. Still living at home, she spends her days barely being civil to the customers at Make Me Coffee.
As we discover in the opening scene though, many of her nights are taken up with a very different pursuit. When we first meet Cassie, she’s seemingly a hot mess, alone in a bar, unable to stand and fumbling around for her phone. Drinking in the same venue, a group of men can’t take their eyes off her, claiming to be worried someone might take advantage of her, while also cajoling each other to be the one to “take her home”.
Eventually one of them does jump in a cab with her, then decides they should both get out at his place. Pouring her a drink, he then makes his move, even though she’s not even aware of her surroundings. That’s when Cassie springs to life, sober, and turns the tables on him. After she chalks him up as another success, we learn this a regular thing and that she has a very particular reason for her unique way of persuading predatory men to change their ways.
What follows is a brilliantly conceived tale, filled with plenty of narrative turns, a killer soundtrack (that includes the magnificent use of Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning and Britney Spears’ Toxic) and a series of unforgettable outfits sported by Cassie.
Fennell’s script segues quite brilliantly from hilarious rom-com to dark drama that will leave you emotionally exhausted by the end. There are times when it all feels rather bleak, others when you think Cassie will get her happily ever after with paediatric oncologist and former college classmate Ryan (charismatic stand-up comedian Bo Burnham). That you’re left flummoxed by where the film’s final destination will be, is a fairly unique and very welcome experience in modern cinema.
In the end though, Promising’s legacy will be that it will make you, especially if you’re a heterosexual male, think. About your own and your friends/colleagues behaviour towards women, about what you have done/would do in certain situations. One scene, where Fennell cleverly uses long takes and close-ups to draw the viewer into the action, makes us feel complicit in what happens. It’s something not easily shaken off or forgotten.
In just the first week, 2021 has delivered us one of the movies of the year.
- James Croot, STUFF
Promising Young Woman is now playing at Light House Cinema!