This review was first published on February 3, 2020.
If you want to see toxic masculinity put in its place, look no further than Promising Young Woman.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is young, ambitious, and smart, and she has a bright future. That is until something happens to her best friend, Nina, and they both drop out of medical school. This mysterious event eventually results in the untimely death of Nina, and Cassie finds herself alone, working in a coffee shop, and still living with her parents. But Cassie has a secret. Most nights, she puts on a show for unsuspecting men by acting like she’s too drunk to stand. After these men have tried to take advantage of her, she turns the tables on them to help teach them a lesson.
But why? As the circumstances around Nina’s death become clear, Cassie’s motivations come into focus. At the same time, Cassie also reconnects with Ryan (Bo Burnham), who she went to school with, and they start to explore a relationship with each other. Cassie, through this experience, begins to see life a little differently, and with more hope. However, when Cassie finds out some new information about Nina, she gets sucked back into her obsession, and there’s no telling what might happen next.
Promising Young Woman is a fast-paced, high stakes chain of events that has you guessing with each turn. Carey Mulligan’s work here is exceptional, and it stands as one of her best roles to date.
Bo Burnham, who had his directorial debut in 2017 with Eighth Grade, gives an absolutely electrifying performance, and a scene of him singing Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” comically steals the show. The supporting cast, notably Laverne Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, and Chris Lowell, all put in good work to help make the story better as it goes along.
This film has the delicate task of being funny, which it is, and addressing sensitive social issues, which it does. In the time of #MeToo, Promising Young Woman celebrates the power of womanhood and independence while offering a biting criticism of chauvinistic behavior by men. It’s sure to be a favorite by many, and the responses at Sundance this year were extraordinary, with plenty of laughter, gasps, and questions along the way.