PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN

I can read the news and see stories about women punishing abusers.
The news isn’t as exciting, inventive, funny, sensitive, and colorful as Emerald Fennell’s sensational debut with Carey Mulligan in the role of Cassandra, who has dedicated her life to punishing clammy men after her best friend was violently abused by a man.

So it’s MeToo instructive.

Find a random Facebook thread about identity politics to listen to. ‘Promising Young Woman’ is set in a world where far too many women face everyday sexism and abuse. Its charms lie in its chewing gum-popped aesthetic universe, narrative twists and turns, pace, and glorious casting of the nasty men. It’s a superbly crafted film.

Cassie (Mulligan) is a 30-year-old medical school dropout who still lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) (Laverne Cox). She has no career goals, no boyfriend, and no other typical interests. She has a job, but it’s not one you’d brag about.

Every few weeks, she dresses up, goes out to a club, and is found drunk by a man pretending to “help” her, but really just wants to take advantage of a woman clearly not in full control. When he gets a little naughty, she is there to deliver a message that will make him think twice about repeating his predatory antics.

Cassie’s bait-and-switch pursuit is related to the fate of Nina, a childhood friend turned med school classmate. What happened to Nina hurts more because those who did it or dismissed her accusations got away with it. Cassie has reduced her own life to a bare minimum in order to focus on bringing some rain to the perps and the men who might do the same to a “promising young woman” like Nina.

The reemergence of Ryan (comedian Bo Burnham, whose film “Eighth Grade” had its own queasy take on youthful sexuality) complicates their plan. Cassie has an unrequited crush on him, and he is so unobjectionable that she cannot fully resist his pitched woo.

Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role being intended for her. Unlike this star, Cassie’s pickup-bait outfit and long blonde hair seem staged. The flat American accent she delivers in her lowest voice register also seems meta, though the quote marks around this performance aren’t entirely clear. Even if the eccentric method obscures the precise message, this turn is skillful, entertaining, and challenging. A grim scene in “Promising Young Woman” is accompanied by a song from “The King and I,” and the juxtaposition of image and song is brilliant.

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