Promising Young Woman First Reviews: Carey Mulligan "Blistering" As A #MeToo Avenger In Emerald Fennell's Ambitious and Fiery Debut

Forget what you think you know about Promising Young Woman, say critics at Sundance: This is like nothing you've seen.

by | January 26, 2020 | Comments

Promising Young Woman
(Photo by © Focus Features)

Killing Eve writer and season 2 showrunner Emerald Fennell’s debut feature film, Promising Young Woman, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday night and is already one of the fest’s buzziest titles. Marketed as a #MeToo revenge thriller – Cassie (Carey Mulligan) lures not-so-good guys home from the club by pretending to be blackout drunk, only to quickly come to when they get back to the pad and teach them a lesson – the film has much more than that on its mind, say first reviews. According to critics, Promising Young Woman is a candy-colored, pop-soundtracked black comedy (and tragedy and thriller and even a rom-com) that swings for the fences and mostly connects – largely thanks to an insightful script and show-stopping work from Mulligan. Though those who were drawn in by the pulpy trailer and poster may get more than they bargained for.

Here are what first reviews are saying about Promising Young Woman.

So, what exactly is Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman?

“Emerald Fennell’s raucous debut, ‘Promising Young Woman,’ twists its buzzword-laden, spoiler-free synopsis — it’s a #MeToo rape revenge thriller with bite! — into something fresh and totally wild.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Promising Young Woman punches its way through rape culture with perfectly manicured nails and a sardonic lipstick smile, and in the end, you may find you’re the one who comes out bruised.” – Angie Han, Mashable

“…an unapologetically bold thriller rooted in the conversations about #MeToo, consent and slut-shaming.” – Monica Castillo, The Wrap

“Emerald Fennell’s ‘Promising Young Woman’ feels like an important addition in this new canon, an incendiary dramedy that confronts the trappings of the genre as well as societal complacency towards women who speak up against sexual predators.”- Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

Promising Young Woman
(Photo by © Focus Features)

What makes Cassie such a compelling heroine?

“Cassie is an anti-heroine for our times, and a wholly unique one at that…Fennell and Mulligan are unafraid to take [Cassie] her into territory dark enough to question if she’s actually the film’s antagonist, the wrong person to root for.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“This isn’t a superhero story. Cassie is a real person consumed by vengeance, and while we can revel in her victories, Mulligan never lets us forget that this is not Batman. This is tragedy tempered only by the darkest of comedy.” – Matt Goldberg, Collider

We’re Hearing Carey Mulligan is Incredible in the role… 

“Mulligan is tremendous as Cassie… Her showiest moments come when Cassie is playing vigilante, her voice nearly a growl as she takes unsuspecting men to task for the crimes they were all too excited to commit just moments ago. But she wisely underplays the true depths of Cassie’s rage and anguish, refusing us the relief of emotional catharsis.” – Angie Han, Mashable

“…it’s a meticulous, candy-coloured fairy tale with a blistering central performance from Carey Mulligan that’s quite unlike anything she’s done before.” – Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

“Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on. The flat American accent she delivers in her lowest voice register likewise seems a bit meta, though it’s not quite clear what the quote marks around this performance signify. Still, like everything here, this turn is skillful, entertaining and challenging, even when the eccentric method obscures the precise message.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety

“Despite the exploitation elements, the actor isn’t tossing broad winks to the audience – she plays the pain and heartache and blistering anger of the character, straight. (She can really put a cold chill on a line like ‘I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve thought about it.’)” – Jason Baily, The Playlist

Promising Young Woman
(Photo by © Focus Features)

Tell Us About the Killer Soundtrack and Stylized look of the film. 

“The film is filled with inspired soundtrack choices — a strings-heavy take on Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ teases before it reveals itself at the perfect moment, and an amusing use of an ‘It’s Raining Men’ cover sells Fennell’s pitch black sense of humor early on — adding a level of care that is sometimes lacking in other elements of the film.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“The soundtrack features a parade of deliberately vapid pop tunes by the likes of Paris Hilton and the Spice Girls. Yet Anthony Willis’ original score is puzzlingly conventional and earnest, complete with ominous Dolby thumps every time justice is served.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety

“The sights and sounds of Promising Young Woman are unabashedly girlish…It’s an aesthetic choice that feels jarring at first, and then depressingly appropriate. What’s more feminine, after all, than having to deal day in and day out with the horrific ramifications of rape culture?” – Angie Han, Mashable

This isn’t just a straight-up revenge thriller, right?

“As Cassie attempts to balance two very disparate parts of her life, Fennell’s panache for genre-bending absolutely rules, and ‘Promising Young Woman’ manages to be funny and sexy and smart and absolutely terrifying, all in one stylish package.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

Promising Young Woman morphs into something more unexpected and complex, shifting in shape and tone a few times over its nearly two-hour run time. A cloud hangs over even its sunniest moments, and some its darkest reveals land with a bark of laugher.” – Angie Han, Mashable

“The movie’s tone shifts from suspenseful to fun, and there is plenty of that in-between some pretty bleak plot points that are alluded to but not fully explained until near the end of the movie.” – Monica Castillo, The Wrap

“Watching Promising Young Woman is like watching someone try to juggle brightly colored glass balls in the air. Some of them shatter on the ground, but you can’t help but be awed by the spectacle and the audacity.” – Matt Goldberg, Collider

Promising Young Woman
(Photo by © Focus Features)

Do the shifts in tone always work?

“Fennell’s biting script is occasionally punctuated with some big jumps and iffy payoffs, and Cassie’s short-lived turnaround is inspired by an unbelievable and thinly written sequence that doesn’t match the rest of her carefully planned missions.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“With so much ambition in ‘Promising Young Woman,’ it feels like the movie wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Not every narrative turn feels germane to the story — some appear to be there simply because they’re unexpected.” – Monica Castillo, The Wrap

How Does Writer-Director Fennell Fare in the Transition from TV to film?

“An actress (currently playing Camilla Parker Bowles on ‘The Crown’) and writer (TV’s ‘Killing Eve,’ as well as three novels for younger readers), Fennell works from an arresting script (featured on the Black List in 2018) whose fluctuating levels of irony and dead-seriousness are further complicated — perhaps sometimes just obscured — by her idiosyncratic directorial choices.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety

“Remarkably, Fennell marries heavy subject matter with impressive lightness. Promising Young Woman is a black comedy at heart, with one awkward family dinner scene particularly memorable.” – Hannah Woodhead, Little White Lies

“Fennell’s primary writing credits of note were on the last season of ‘Killing Eve,’ and she’s got a real gift for flipping from dark comedy to honest pathos to ominous rumblings.” – Jason Baily, The Playlist

“I was absolutely floored by Promising Young Woman, not just because Fennell proves she’s already a master of her craft with her first feature film, but because it’s unapologetic in pointing out complicity.” – Matt Goldberg, Collider

No Spoilers, But What About That Ending?

“Fennell saves her (and Cassie’s) biggest surprises for its combustible final twenty minutes, taking risks that are admirable even when they don’t seem as if they’re going to pay off.” – Kate Erbland, IndieWire

“…its ending will prove, I’m certain, divisive. But there’s no denying that Fennell is playing with dynamite here, and knows it.” – Jason Baily, The Playlist

Finally, this all sounds a bit more complex than the trailer suggests… 

“What’s actually onscreen is much trickier than the cheerily titillating exploitation-horror suggested by its early slogan (‘Take her home and take your chances’) and blood-dripping poster design. ‘Species,’ this is not — nor even an updated ‘Ms. 45.’” – Dennis Harvey, Variety

“Though the trailer calls it ‘a delicious new take on revenge,’ that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, Promising Young Woman is about vengeance, but it’s far from appetising; on the contrary, what underlines this scathing tale is suffering and fury.” – Anthony Kaufman, Screen Daily

Promising Young Woman isn’t satisfied with the simple pleasures of revenge…. The deeper we go into Cassie’s world, the more difficult it becomes to ignore the blood and bruises underneath her hard candy-colored shell…” – Angie Han, Mashable

Promising Young Woman premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 25. It is in theaters April 17, 2020. 

Adjusted Score: 93.5%
Critics Consensus: A boldly provocative, timely thriller, Promising Young Woman is an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Emerald Fennell -- and a career highlight for Carey Mulligan.
Synopsis: Everyone said Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was a promising young woman... until a tragic event abruptly derailed her future. Now she's... [More]
Directed By: Emerald Fennell

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