The internet was understandably agog over the first trailer for Promising Young Woman, the feature debut from Killing Eve season two showrunner Emerald Fennell. The slow strings arrangement of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” combined with Carey Mulligan’s anything-but-helpless vindicator of violated women everywhere revved people for a revenge movie for the #MeToo era. As the credits rolled after the sold-out Sundance premiere, Fennell proved such a movie for this point in time isn’t as clean, isn’t as devilishly cathartic as we might hope. It’s not Uma Thurman with a katana, and that’s exactly why it’s necessary.
That in and of itself seems like it should make for a fist-pumping romp to stick it to all the “Not All Men” out there. But Fennell is doing something far grimmer and far more serious than that. We’re supposed to think Cassandra is the avenging angel, and we delight in her various gotchas on dudes at bars. But the sudden reunion with Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former classmate, changes things for her. She’s not just in a vacuum. Like Thurman’s Bride, she’s getting closer to her ultimate goal of checking off specific people from a list, those who enabled the aforementioned act.
Fennell tackles the heavy subject with heavy amounts of humor. There’s a lot of darkly comedic moments, yes, but also some sweet and legitimately heartfelt ones. You care about Cassandra and her budding relationship with Ryan. You don’t want her to somehow blow a chance at happiness with a genuinely nice guy. And it’s those moments, the ones not devoted to revenge, that make Promising Young Woman the serio-comic tragedy it is. It seems inevitable. She’s never going to “just forget” about what happened, because so many real women can’t either.
Featured Image: Focus Features