Just to inform you all, my body naturally cringe when I hear popular (or recent) pop-electro songs accompany the film’s visual because based from my experience, these are just lazy filmmaking where filmmakers are like “let’s just put this songs here because I don’t really want to dive deeper and search another music.” Imagine how surprised I am to see this happens in the opening logos of this year 5 category nominated Oscar film (Best Picture included) ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2020), wondering “what the fuck does this voters thinking about?” Then, the film starts to roll and you’re served with men asses instead of the usual sexualized scene of women. I might still have a mixed feeling but I know I’m in for a different ride.
Certainly, I could understand what writer-director Emerald Fennell tries to aim for in the opening; which is a brilliant screenwriting where the first scene should already establish the theme (or the very least the mood) of the film. However, it falls flat again as a group of businessmen start to talk about women in their view, being a dick and preachy to the audience. We get it, women are mistreated way unfairly in society but I’m just sick of how Hollywood tries to tackle feminism through obvious moments instead of telling the story. Again, this was subverted when Cassie (Carey Mulligan) appeared. She looks drunk, giving herself vulnerability to be seduced by a man, which it did as she is brought back to his house. The next thing you know, she just pretended to be drunk and became all man’s worst nightmare.
Carey Mulligan plays a secret double life; a coffee shop worker on the day and a predator hunting women predators where she would change the man’s life forever. I’ve familiarized myself with the innocent Carey Mulligan, playing the beautiful yet helpless Irene in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ‘Drive’ (2011) and the attractive Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann ‘The Great Gatsby’ (2013). But here, you got a wickedly smart and cunning Carey Mulligan that appeared innocent on front yet could transform into a dangerous beast that’ll serve you uncomfortable with her sarcastic demeanor if not approached carefully. Characters like this reminiscence the presence of Lisbeth Salander in ‘Millennium’ series, yet Emerald Fennell adds the characteristics of human character where limit does exist, and Mulligan just nails all these aspects.
I did complain about the film direct confrontation towards feminism in the opening, and I was wrong for the whole film. This is not a film where female superheroes gather to attack Thanos at the same time (Marvel, do take note of that and watch this film) but rather a deep social commentary multiplely layered on an engaging story. We follow Cassie, a young woman traumatized by a tragic event related to sexual abuse and gave no mercy for men (but not limited to women) who crossed with her path. Through several encounters, the messages are well-delivered and diverted with thrilling sequences (thanks to Carey Mulligan performance), resulting in a non-preachy yet well-intentioned film added with entertainment flavor to keep your eye on the screen.
Yet Emerald Fennell doesn’t only discuss the disparities justice of men and women involved in sexual abuse. Diverse themes such as revenge, relationship and even the perception of society towards the mid-life crisis are handled so well done with the inclusion of character development. And for a directorial debut, Emerald Fennell translates the film well into the screen despite the difficult tonality. On one side, it’s a very serious subject matter where a slight mistake would cause controversies in the media yet on the other hand, Fennell wrote it in a more light (leaning into satire) that contains an entertainment value inside.
The performance does help to balance the tone, but I found it’s the film looks from Benjamin Kračun that provide its tone. At times, it is colorful with the messy and vibrant color of its sound design. However it could also be sentimentally dark; take the scene where Cassie just looks blanklessly on the blinking screen. Yet this is mostly covered with the plain look, perfectly capturing the dark nature beneath in Cassie herself as well as the film’s story.
In the end, Promising Young Woman could be another most important 2020 film that successfully tackles a serious theme in an unconventional, amusing way. This is a movie that not only serves the purpose of discussion but also rooted back to old days’ value; entertainment.