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Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman
A bone-chilling and Oscar-worthy performance by Carey Mulligan in the starring role makes 2020's Promising Young Woman worth investing in despite some confusing plot elements.

Mulligan plays Cassandra, a 30-year old med school dropout who now works as a barista and still lives with her parents. It is revealed that Cassandra was so traumatized by a tragic event in her past that was some kind of sexual assault. We know this because every weekend Cassandra goes out to bars and pretends to be drunk and let men take her home, then shocking them when she reveals that she's sober and puts the men trying to take advantage of her in their place. Cassandra's bar adventures actually turn out to be just part of an elaborate plan of revenge for that tragic event that actually didn't happen to her.

Director and screenwriter Emerald Fennell has come up with a story that is relevant in this "Me too" era, but gets away from her a bit as this event that triggers this snap in Cassandra not only finds her seeking revenge on the people who were directly involved but also finds her taking out her suffering on bystanders who were aware of what happened and chose to remain silent. What I do like about the screenplay is the way Fennell constructs Casandra's plan so that with each confrontation she has with someone involved, a piece of the puzzle regarding this assault falls in place, but it's not spelled out for the viewer. The viewer is able to piece together what happened, though another layer of viewer confusion is added as it's revealed that Cassandra was not the victim of the original assault. Early on after each trip to the bar, Cassandra is observed making hash tags in a notebook, but the purpose of this notebook is never really made clear,

Director Fennell effectively creates a contemporary and believable canvas for this story to unfold with a genuine sociopath right at the center of it. The creep factor of this Cassandra character is high voltage, bringing to mind movie characters like Jennifer Jason Leigh's character in Single White Female, Kathy Bates' character in Misery, with just a dash of Margaret White in Carrie. This Cassandra character rivets the viewer to the screen because her mental issues are as prevalent as the character's rampant unpredictability.

Fennell has a terrific eye with the camera that create some memorable images for the viewer. That scene where she smashes the headlights of a stranger in a truck and she's standing in the middle of the street was chilling, as was her preparation for the final showdown at a bachelor party. The problems with the story fade to the background thanks to the deliciously unhinged performance by Carey Mulligan as Cassandra, that should earn Mulligan her second Oscar nomination. Solid support is provided by Bo Burnham as a young doctor, Allison Brie as a former schoolmate, and Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge as Cassandra's parents. An impressive debut for a practically unknown filmmaker and a brilliant showcase for one of our industry's most underrated actors.