Carey Mulligan takes names and, well, you know what in “Promising Young Woman.” But it’s not initially obvious what her endgame is.
She’s seen on dates with aggressive men who try to take advantage of what appears to be another drunk woman. She quickly disavows that notion, then adds their names to a journal of sorts.
Mulligan’s Cassie, we discover, leads two lives. During the day, she’s a coffee shop worker who lives at home with her parents. At night, she’s the ultimate party girl, picking up strangers at a host of places by playing a number of different roles.
Director Emerald Fennell hints that Cassie is trying to teach lessons about toxic masculinity. But there are plenty of clues that more is afoot.
When a doctor arrives at the coffee shop (which is smartly managed by Laverne Cox), he recognizes his barista from med school. Apparently, Cassie was a star student, expected to be one of its prized physicians. But something happened that prompted her to quit.
At dinners with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge), we get snippets of information. At the coffee shop, we learn more. The most tea, though, is spilled when she dates the doctor (Bo Burnham) and names start surfacing.
Key among them: Nina, a fellow student who had close encounters of the unwanted kind. Because Mulligan can play any emotion, we’re not sure where this is headed – or how “Fatal Attraction” the circumstances ultimately wind up to be.
Cassie may appear to be sidetracked by romance, but she still has that journal and a list of names that doesn’t seem to be finished. When she approaches college officials about past concerns, it looks like resolution is possible.
But, then? Fennell doubles down and “Promising Young Woman” becomes a frightening look at the kinds of men who dismiss claims of rape and later try to run for office.
Fennell boils plenty in this pot of sins. She lets Mulligan play a host of characters and shows how acting becomes a part of relationships, too.
When “Promising Young Woman” comes to a conclusion, you won’t necessarily agree with Cassie’s decisions but you’ll have to admire her determination. The film ends like many thrillers and should have you talking for days.
Mulligan’s performance, however, is the key to everything. She’s an obvious heir apparent to Glenn Close.