The specter of Brett Kavanaugh’s unmanly past at a frat party hangs over Emerald Fennell’s revenge fantasy, “Promising Young Woman,” as do the million microaggressions endured by girls/women finding their place in the world.
The always stunning Carey Mulligan portrays Cassie, a medical school dropout, prowling in bars at night, picking up men who see her, drunk, out of it, equating with easy prey, easy lay. Legs astride, makeup dripping, her look signals anything but control, but she’s got a trick waiting. As they undress her, she bolts up, confronts their predations and takes off, a quiet act of revolt.
And that’s just the first scene. At times “Promising Young Woman” seems dark rom com, as Cassie dates Ryan (Bo Burnham), a guy from the past her parents, the wonderful Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown are relieved to see, even though she’s still spending a night or two settling scores with various men, and even women, such as a former classmate (Alison Brie) who witnessed the gang rape of Cassie’s best friend, the catalyst for Cassie’s madness.
Everyone, including a female dean, wants Cassie to get over her obsession, give in to the tired bromide, “Boys will be boys.” At an online post screening panel, Mulligan — who may very well score an Oscar nomination here — said she herself wished that things could lighten up for Cassie, that she’d end up avenged, and better off for her efforts. But, a realist, Mulligan knows: things have to go extreme for voices to matter. The film’s final scene suggests a start: Time for all the Kavanaughs of the world to man up, and apologize.