The American black comedy thriller Promising Young Woman (2020) tells the story of a woman seeking vengeance for the death of her best friend, who was raped. Promising Young Woman was directed and written by the English actress, screenwriter, television writer, television producer, novelist, film producer, and film director Emerald Fennell. It was her feature directorial debut, and it stars Carey Mulligan along with Alison Brie, Bo Burnham, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Connie Britton, and Laverne Cox.
On January 25, 2020, Promising Young Woman had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and Focus Features released it theatrically in the United States on December 25, 2020. It received positive reviews, with praise for its screenplay, direction, and Mulligan’s performance. The National Board of Review called it one of the ten best films of 2020, with Mulligan winning a Golden Globe in the Best Actress category, and it earned four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama. The film earned five nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress for Mulligan.
Promising Young Woman (2020) holds a 90% approval rate on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, a 7.5/10 rating on IMDb, and a 73% rating on Metacritic.
Plot of Promising Young Woman (2020)
A young woman seeks revenge against those who crossed her path after being traumatized by a traumatic incident in her life.
Cassie’s life isn’t as it seems; she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and by night she’s living a secret double life. Cassie is about to have an unexpected experience that will allow her to make amends for her mistakes in the past.
Production Company: LuckyChap Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment.
Producer: Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerley, Josey McNamara, Ben Browning, Emerald Funnell, Ashley Fox
Director: Emerald Fennell
Film Duration: 113 minutes
Release Date: January 25, 2020 (Sundance), December 25, 2020 (United States)
Awards and Nominations
- Promising Young Woman(2020) is nominated for five Academy Awards including the Best Director, Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing category.
- At the 74th BAFTA awards Promising Young Woman (2020) is nominated for six awards in the Best Film, Best Casting, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Music, Best Editing, and Outstanding British Film categories.
- It was nominated for six Critics’ Choice Awards, of which it won two awards in the Best Original Screenplay category and the Best Actress category for Carey Mulligan.
- It was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards in the Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama categories.
Promising Young Woman (2020), received 184 award nominations from several award shows, of which it has won 88 awards.
Story of Promising Young Woman (2020)
Cassie Thomas, 30, is a medical school dropout who lives in Ohio with her parents. Her best friend Nina Fisher had been assaulted by her classmate Al Monroe years before, and the school and legal system had dropped the case, leading to her suicide. Cassie now spends her nights in clubs pretending to be inebriated, encouraging men to take her to their houses, and exposing her sobriety as they want to take advantage of her.
Cassie is asked out by Ryan Cooper, a former classmate, at the coffee shop where she works. He addresses Al’s upcoming wedding on their date. Cassie devises a strategy to exact vengeance on those she believes are to blame for Nina’s rape. She has lunch with Madison McPhee, an old friend who does not believe Nina was raped; she gets her intoxicated and hires a man to drive her to a hotel room. Cassie receives multiple voicemails the next day from a devastated Madison, who has no recollection of what happened. Cassie is after Elizabeth Walker, the dean of the medical school who dismissed Nina’s case due to a lack of evidence. Cassie poses as a makeup artist for a pop band to entice Elizabeth’s teenage daughter Amber into her car. Later, Cassie meets Walker and asks her about Nina’s case under the guise of resuming her studies. Cassie informs Walker that she dropped Amber off in a dorm room with intoxicated male students as Walker explains her behavior. Walker apologizes for her inaction, scared, and Cassie reveals Amber is safe at a diner.
Cassie forgets to meet Ryan for a date, causing him to be disappointed. Cassie entices a guy to drive her home that night. They collide with Ryan as they exit the bar; Ryan is injured and flees. Cassie is sober, and the man recognizes her from when his buddy picked her up.
Cassie pays a visit to Al’s lawyer, Jordan Green, who bullied Nina into dropping her charges. Cassie forgives Green as he shows sorrow for his behavior after suffering a mental breakdown over his remorse. Cassie abandons her revenge plans after meeting Nina’s mother, who encourages her to move on. Cassie makes an apology to Ryan and the two fall in love. Madison approaches Cassie outside her door, eager to learn what happened during their lunch date. Cassie assuages her fears by assuring her that nothing has happened. Madison hands Cassie an old phone that contains a video of Nina’s abuse before threatening to block her from ever contacting her again. Cassie notices Ryan among the bystanders who are witnessing the rape. She approaches him and threatens to release the video unless he discloses the location of Al’s bachelor party. Ryan informs Cassie and begs her forgiveness, but she declines.
Cassie appears dressed as a stripper at Al’s bachelor party, drugs Al’s parents, and brings Al upstairs. She binds him to a bed with handcuffs and shows her true identity. He breaks free and smothers her to death with a pillow as she attempts to carve Nina’s name into Al’s abdomen. Al’s friend Joe consoles him the next morning and assists him in burning Cassie’s body. Cassie’s parents file a missing person report, and the police start looking into her disappearance. Ryan claims Cassie is mentally ill and refuses to tell the police where she is headed.
Green receives a package from Cassie with a video of Nina’s rape and instructions to follow if she does not return. Ryan receives several scheduled texts from Cassie, signed with her and Nina’s names, while Green receives a package from Cassie with a video of Nina’s rape and instructions to follow if she does not return. Gail, Cassie’s coffee shop coworker, finds half of a heart necklace with Cassie’s name underneath the cash register. Cassie was killed while wearing the identical half with Nina’s name on it. The necklace and her burnt remains are found by the police, and Al is arrested for murder at his wedding.
Amazing Facts about Promising Young Woman (2020)
- Promising Young Woman (2020) took only 23 days to film.
- Brock Turner, a Stanford University student who was convicted of sexual harassment in 2016, is referenced in the title. Despite his arrest, he was dubbed a “Promising Young Man” by others.
- Director Emerald Fennell sent Carey Mulligan a playlist to set the tone for the film after she was cast in the lead role. Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ was featured twice. Fennell is a self-professed Spears aficionado who finds the song to be one of her favorites.
- Emerald Fennell, the writer/director, and her producers held a test screening a few months before the film’s Sundance premiere to gauge audience reactions.
- Cassie is sitting in front of her headboard in a number of shots, with the white frame symbolically creating angel wings behind her.
- Cassie reads “Careful How You Go” while working at the coffee shop, a reference to Emerald Fennell’s 2018 short film of the same name.
- Despite the fact that the movie basically revolves around a rape case, the terms “rape” and “sexual harassment” are never used in the movie.
- Promising Young Woman (2020) is director Emerald Fennell’s feature directorial debut film.
- Cassie’s parents watch The Night of the Hunter (1955) earlier in the film, and the song “Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly” is from that film.
- Emerald Fennell for Promising Young Woman (2020) and Chloé Zhao for Nomadland (2020) was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, marking the first time two women were nominated in the same year.
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