Promising Young Woman

Tom Van Kalken | 14/12/2020

Promising Young Woman fails to capitalize on the admirable performances by leading actors Carrie Mulligan and Bo Burnam. 


The titular Promising Young Woman is Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a med school dropout with the peculiar hobby of acting completely hammered in local bars, waiting predatory men to take advantage of her near-comatose state, before springing out of her ‘drunken stupor’ to catch these men in the act of sexual assault. Here the rapists aren’t junkies or hoodlums - they're chino wearing young professionals having an after-work beer; men who think of themselves as ‘the good guy’ but whose behaviour with girls they believe to be black-out drunk proves otherwise.


The motivations for Cassie’s patriarchal vendetta remain fuzzy for the majority of the film, but are slowly revealed to us in short bursts as we flip back and forth between genres, pacing and tone. From the moment that Cassie bumps into old college-mate, Ryan (Bo Burnam) at the local coffee shop where she works, the film starts to derail. This has nothing to do with either of the two leads performances which are by far the most enjoyable parts of this film. Bo Burnam in particular brings an incredible amount of charm to the role of Cassie’s love interest, and Carrie Mulligan gives one of her best performances since her seminal role in Lone Scherfig’s An Education (2009). Rather, it’s the film’s jarred pacing and uncertain voice that leaves you rolling your eyes when the two leave the screen. 


The film switches from a charming love story to phycological thriller in the space of a few minutes, so fast that it’s enough to give any audience member cinematic whiplash. This problem is not only limited to the scripting and directing, this drastic back and forth can be felt both visually and sonically too. From the bright pastel coloured, candy pink days to the neon soaked, dark and dreary nights; from Paris Hilton’s upbeat and bouncy ‘Stars are Blind’, to a comically on the nose orchestral rendition of Britney Spears ‘Toxic’. 


Remarkably, this back and forth almost works due to Mulligan’s fantastic ability to portray Carrie as a woman who’s both dangerous and vulnerable, cold and caring; but in the end it’s all too much, and the pacing, along with all the other issues that this film’s script faces leaves an undesirable taste in the mouth when the credits start to roll. 


The problem with Promising Young Woman, is that it can’t decide which lane it’s in, switching from phycological thriller to charming rom-com on a dime, leaving the viewer feeling disoriented and confused. This, along with the film’s ham-fisted approach to sexual assault and sexualised trauma, it makes for an underwhelming experience despite leading actor Carrie Mulligan’s best efforts.