‘Promising Young Woman’ is a nervy revenge-fantasy thriller

Jan 29, 2021, 12:56 PM | Updated: 1:03 pm

Promising Young Woman is a twisty, complicated, uneven, nervy revenge-fantasy thriller. It’s both a pitch-black comedy and a rom-com tragedy, an astringent satire that spares almost no one. It’s as funny as it is angry, and this promising young woman is not going to take it anymore.

Carey Mulligan is expected to get an Oscar nomination for her star turn as Cassie, a troubled woman with a serious grievance. Once a top-notch medical student, she’s fallen upon hard times. No one is quite sure why.

At this point in my review, since the film is full of nasty and/or delicious surprises, I’m going to be very circumspect about what I reveal. Let’s just say that she has good reason to be suspicious of a lot of people, especially but not exclusively men. She feels betrayed by people she’s trusted and acts accordingly. Sometimes those acts can be quite harrowing.

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Cassie’s rather jaundiced worldview, one consumed with animosity and distrust, gets challenged when she meets and starts dating Ryan (Bo Burnham), a smart, earnest, funny and likable guy she once knew in medical school. Despite Cassie’s best efforts at pushing him away, Ryan stays true blue to her. Do nice guys really exist? Will Cassie be forced to revise her take on the world? Will she abandon a possible love of her life for an agenda dictated by something in the past? Cassie, quite simply, is torn.

Developments eventually overwhelm this mini-psychological crisis and send the plot careening into entirely unforeseen places. Eventually the film climaxes in quite shocking and disturbing fashion, and the denouement has a real bite to it as well. This unexpected ending proves problematic, however. Some will be thrilled by its audacity, while others, like me, will feel it cheapens the rest of the film. That being said, it’s nothing if not daring.

Revenge supposedly is a dish best served cold. In Cassie’s case, it’s ice-cold and piping hot.

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Tom Tangney


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‘Promising Young Woman’ is a nervy revenge-fantasy thriller