The biggest disappointment of this awards season has arrived and I was really looking forward to it. It’s called ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2021) and it’s directed by the super-posh Emerald Fennell who made her name in ‘Call the Midwife’ (2012-). Carey Mulligan stars as the titular avenging angel and caused controversy when a male reviewer claimed she wasn’t as sexy as Margot Robbie. Honestly, after watching ‘Promising Young Woman’, you might well believe that.
Mulligan is 30 year old medical dropout Cassie Thomas who lives with her parents. Years before, her classmate Al Monroe (Bo Burnham) raped her best friend Nina Fisher, but there was no investigation by the school or legal system. Now, Cassie spends her night faking being drunk and allowing men to take her home and reveals her sobriety when they try to take advantage of her.
On a positive front, this movie boasts some sparkling colours and a hip-hop soundtrack. The opening shots set in a nightclub feature an explosion of popping pinks, yellows and red hues. There’s Nina Simone on the soundtrack and ‘Here Come The Girls’ cooing into your living room. It’s all very funky stuff.
The negatives? There are a lot. Most crucially this movie has no idea whether it wants to be a serious movie about sexual assault and its concequences (which could have been really interesting in the #MeToo era) or a semi-man-hating, ‘Birds of Prey’-style revenge porn. There’s an awful lot of men getting beaten up and their parts blown off. That would be ok, but ‘Promising Young Woman’ insists on being a serious movie about rape which it just isn’t.
Carey Mulligan’s performance is a little too classy for this kind of role. I’m not saying the lead actress needed to be sexy necessarily, just a bit more trashy in her personality and image. Margot Robbie perfected this with her trash-talking, arse-kicking Harley Quinn in ‘Birds of Prey’ which was a far less serious movie and far more fun. I can’t understand why Mulligan has attracted so much awards attention for this performance. It all looks a bit like bad drag.
Does this movie glorify sexual assault on men and women? Not quite. But it’s neither smart, sexy or funny enough to really cut to the heart of the subject matter. I just found it a colossal bore.
‘Promising Young Woman’ is on Sky Cinema and Now TV now.
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
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