Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” reinvents the revenge thriller, giving the cinematic treatment for woman reclaiming their power. On page 20, Cassandra (played exquisitely by Carey Mulligan) is approached by a former college classmate Ryan (played by the charismatically brilliant Bo Burnham). After Ryan delivers a man’s all-too-familiar rude and passive-aggressive questions regarding expectations about what a woman should and should not be doing, Cassandra’s quick question bends the genre and harnesses the power in seconds. “You didn’t mean what’s a promising young woman like me doing working at a shitty coffee shop?” she asks.
Ryan responds, stammering, “No, I didn’t mean…I just thought…Oh man. There’s no way out of this, is there?”
Fennell, who also directs the marvelous outing, furnishes rich and detailed descriptions of scenes right away on page 1 — which you can find below in its entirety, exclusive on Variety.
Critics had suspected that the film would be divisive after debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, but that has not seemed to be the case based on reviews and audience reactions. In an interview on the Variety Awards Circuit podcast in December, Fennell spoke about test screenings’ reactions with deputy awards and features editor Jenelle Riley. “It was just a really completely mixed audience, all sorts of ages and genders,” Fennell says. “There’s a scene in the middle of the movie, an argument between two people, and a shouting argument [erupted in the audience] in the middle of it. For me, at the time, it was sort of horrifying because I wasn’t expecting anything like that. You don’t necessarily want there to be fisticuffs through your film.”
The film has led in the precursor awards up to this point, with big prizes from Los Angeles Film Critics Association and New York Film Critics Online. With the Writers Guild Awards voting starting Friday, the Focus Features critical sensation looks to be heading toward awards attention. Fennell is also the leader in debut director wins this season, an advantage that will help her going into voting for the Directors Guild of America awards, particularly for the first-time director, which could be dominated by women this year.
Mulligan’s luscious and vibrant portrayal as Cassandra has also been revered by audiences and industry professionals. She recently picked up the prestigious National Board of Review earlier this week for best actress, adding to her season tally with her LAFCA honor.
WGA awards voting ends on Feb. 12 before the nominations are announced on Feb. 16.