PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN – Review by Martha K Baker

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Cassandra Thompson, the titular character, was friends with a similar promising woman. After something wicked happened, Cassandra left the world that saw her as promising and entered a world of post-traumatic stress. In this new world, Cassandra is a new woman plotting revenge of Old Testament proportions.

Cassandra works in a coffee shop, an odd come-down for the former med student. She lives with her parents. At a bar, she oozes her seemingly sloshed self all over a banquette. One bar fly, seemingly a good guy, offers to see her home. He takes her to his apartment whereupon she makes him face who he is. And who she is.

Then, she meets a man who was once a classmate. He flirts with her. She winks back. He wonders why she left school. She does not tell him what she thinks he should have remembered since she cannot forget. This, too, is part of her greater moral plan to shred a system of male privilege, the one that saw a judge determine that an accusation of rape would ruin the life of that “promising young man,” Brock Turner.

Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Cassandra rivets as the character mystifies and reveals. Mulligan toggles between virgin and virago, impregnating Cassandra with righteousness and rigor. Her amazing supporting cast trains the spotlight on Cassandra: Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Max Greenfield, Bo Burnham, Sam Richardson, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, and the uncredited Alfred Molina.

Even Emerald Ferrell exploits her acting chops in a minor role, but her major roles are as director and writer. When Cassandra admits that she is falling in love, her beau rewards her happily with, “I’m going to buy you a bicycle!” As director, Ferrell could be excused for ponderousness. Anthony Willis’ choice of musical accompaniment adds “Something Wonderful” to a fire and “Angel of the Morning” to the end. Nancy Steiner’s definitive costume designs for Cassandra include different pastel nail polish painting each finger and masses of wigs.

“Promising Young Woman” should play on a double bill with “The Assistant” because both
address the nightmare fact that men fear being humiliated by women whereas women fear being killed by men.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Promising Young Woman is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for January 1, 2021

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Martha K. Baker

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.