Promising Young Woman, the assured feature debut by writer-director Emerald Fennell, excels as a pitch-black revenge comedy and as blunt-force social commentary. The film’s emotional brutality does not relent, nor should it: Promising Young Woman is a grand indictment of the male gaze, both in film and in life.
As part of its Academy Awards preview, Promising Young Woman will screen at 8 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday at Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23rd St.
Music and filmby George Lang
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In an Oscar-nominated performance, Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra Thomas, a woman in her early 30s who is years removed from dropping out of medical school and currently lives at home with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown). Cassandra spends her days barely working at a coffee shop and most nights going to bars, where she pretends to be ripping drunk in order to attract predatory men and punish them for their actions.
Cassandra has good reasons for her behavior, and Promising Young Woman soon makes it clear that she is methodically working through a list of both women and men who played a role in a great disservice to a young woman in crisis. Whether it is the dean of the medical school (Connie Britton), former classmate Madison (Alison Brie) or the pediatric surgeon (Bo Burnham) who falls hard for her, Cassandra is on a merciless mission.
One of the great recurring themes in Promising Young Woman is the delusion of men, most of whom express some variation on the phrase “I’m a nice guy” when trying to justify their terrible behavior. They all act with casual, unthinking misogyny toward Cassandra and other bar scene prey, whether they are capable lotharios like Jerry (Adam Brody) or coked-up insecure nerds (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Fennell, who is best known for writing most of Killing Eve’s second season and for playing Camilla Parker-Bowles in The Crown, maintains the mystery of Cassandra’s actions for most of the film, doling out just enough information when and where it is needed. But she also makes her thesis statement with the opening credits sequence, showing men with big bellies in ill-fitting khakis dancing with abundant overconfidence. It symbolizes how easily men can delude themselves into thinking they are worthy of the women in their sights.
At the center of all this is Mulligan, who projects faux vulnerability when it is needed for Cassandra to ensnare someone and then turns on a dime when going in for the kill. It is easily one of Mulligan’s best performances in a career that began with 2005’s Pride & Prejudice and surged four years later in An Education.
An Education was notable for the ways in which its central character, 1960s London teenager Jenny Mellor, was treated as an object to be acquired by a 30-something man (Peter Saarsgard). In Jenny’s case, she was a willing participant in an inappropriate seduction, and her overbearing father (Alfred Molina) acted as an accomplice.
In some ways, Promising Young Woman is a rejoinder to An Education — Molina even makes an appearance as an attorney who is incapacitated with guilt over the central crime in the story. While An Education was almost too subtle as an indictment of predatory sexual behavior, Promising Young Woman hits its targets repeatedly between the eyes.
Between Fennell’s caustic script and Mulligan’s precise performance, Promising Young Woman is a film for its time, going straight at a culture that has no excuses anymore.
Tickets are $10. Visit towertheatreokc.com.
Bread and Butter Band, a high-energy string band putting a new twist on the gypsy jazz created by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, performs on the patio at 8 p.m. Saturday at 51st Street Speakeasy, 1114 NW 51st St. For more information, call (405) 463-0470.
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Last Updated April 15, 2021, 10:51 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor