Movie Review: Promising Young Woman9th January 2021
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Promising Young Woman opens with glossy neon lights and a contemporary soundtrack, but soon sheds those in the way of a story right at the core of current-day issues.
Drifting from topic to topic, this piece from director Emerald Fennell supplies uncomfortable and formidably unflinching analysis of a swathe of topics. Some thrust its audience into the harsh light of day, expanding on themes that are now boldly making their way into the forefront of conversation, whilst other issues are left under-developed and cast aside to the horrors of half-baked writing and dreary supporting performers.
Much of these problems are connected to one key individual, though, one that Promising Young Woman relies on for much of its running time.
Whether we’re meant to love or loathe this leading character is muddled entirely. A seemingly noble effort to put predators in their place, but scenes of psychotic behaviour undermine this on occasion. Justice is pursued by someone that could be chastised and criticised for approaching situations with similar malice.
Carey Mulligan’s leading performance as Cassie is a strong one, but the clumsy messaging of the film drags her down.
Stronger dialogue in some scenes would help; lines that pack a weightier punch to them. Fennell’s craft leaves much to the camerawork, a heavy burden to hold, and the performers never manage to elbow their way through, unable to lend a helping hand.
Maintaining this underwhelming approach, it’s a shame that Promising Young Woman does hide away pockets of surreal brilliance.
Frustration grows when Fennell and Mulligan offer up stellar lines of dialogue here or there, and the trickling-down of such quality ceases rather too quickly. Stale supporting characters Bo Burnham and Laverne Cox play folly to cliché and come across more as stand-ins for commentary on a subject than genuine articles of humanity.
Burnham is fine, the strange love he receives on stand-up circuits and independent filmmaking groups will see him shine through this one as the saviour of cinema, someone that’ll have audiences fawning over him for years to come. He applies his talent solidly enough, but he doesn’t leave much presence on the screen.
Romanticising the odd relationship between Mulligan and Burnham, opening with some coffee spit and winding it all up with a bloated and boring series of dates and drama, whilst at the same time wielding a flimsy stick of justice, Promising Young Woman is messy, but gets its point across well enough.
Moments that attempt to pick apart the dangers of club culture, issues that certainly need addressing, but Fennell’s craft is its own worst enemy. Nothing here presents itself as ultimately unique, the pacing feels off and the stock style of craft struggles to break through with a more important message.
Promising Young Woman is just that – promising – but in its immature state fails to leave more than a stain of its ideas on the consciousness.