Sundance 2020: Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan stars as Cassie in director Emerald Fennell’s PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

If there’s a film that you should go into without watching a trailer or reading reviews, Promising Young Woman is that film.

The large majority of filmgoers will have until mid-April December before they can see this film.  As a result, I’m going to be extra careful in writing about this film.  It’s a film that ought to be treated like that of a Marvel or Star Wars film.  Go into it knowing very little as possible.  You’ll thank me for this piece of information later!

Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) was going to be a doctor.  That is, until something happened and she ended up dropping out of med school.  When we meet her, she’s living a double life.  Barista by day, Cassie works the club scene at night.  This is as little information as you’re getting from me.

Cassie is at the doctor’s office when she finds herself in a reunion with med school classmate, Ryan (Bo Burnham).  He’s relentless in his efforts to pursue her.  Will anything come from this?  Again, you’ll just have to see.  Aside from that, I really can’t get into anything else without ruining the film for you.  This isn’t the film to ruin for audiences especially in this era of people tweeting out plot points like crazy on social media.

While the cast features a number of names from the comedy scene, this film is not a comedy.  It’s a drama.  A crime drama.  There may be some comedic moments but honestly, this is about it.  It’s interesting to watch some of these comedians acting against type.  Or they’re playing to type without realizing the severity of the situation at hand.

Emerald Fennell, who served as head writer on Killing Eve‘s second season, hits it out of the ballpark with her feature directorial debut.  The film, which marks the second Sundance appearance for Fennell, is smartly written with an opening that truly sets the tone.  I love what Fennell does with the script here.  She really has a way of taking us on turn after turn.

Ever since Carey Mulligan broke into the scene with her Oscar-nominated performance in An Education, the actress has been one to watch.  Two years after starring in Wildlife, Mulligan delivers in one of the wildest films of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.  Will it land her another Oscar nomination?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Promising Young Woman is a film that should be seen while knowing as little information as possible.


Some additional week of release thoughts: I know I said to go into the film without knowing anything but upon rewatching, I feel the need to speak.  The film’s third act ought to come with a trigger and content warning.  I was sick as a dog when I saw the film during Sundance and with distance, I can look back at this film in a better way.  There is still a lot to enjoy about the revenge-driven film but the third act makes it rather tough to watch.  Big screen or small screen, it really doesn’t matter because if you’re anything like me, you’ll still cringe.  Spoiler alert but you don’t kill off your lead character during the final minutes of the film.  At least not in a way where Cassie can’t as much as defend herself.  If she went down fighting, maybe.  But to suffocate her?!? No!

Focus Features may say the film is a comedy.  Maybe a dark comedy.  It’s not a laugh-out-loud hysterical comedy.  Not even close!

I understand what filmmaker Emerald Fennell is trying to do here.  Meanwhile, Carey Mulligan certainly delivers one of the best performances this year.  But at the same time, the film’s third act just doesn’t sit well with me.  I don’t know if it ever will.  That being said, I’m keeping the 4/5 film grade that I initially gave the film at Sundance.

CAST:  Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell, Sam Richardson, Molly Shannon, Clancy Brown

Promising Young Woman held its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program. Focus Features will open Promising Young Woman on December 25, 2020. A VOD release will follow on January 15, 2021. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.