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At The Movies: Oscar-‘Promising’ Mulligan

“Promising Young Woman” is a startling film that sneaks up on you.

It starts out amusingly enough as a romantic comedy, depicting a series of what might be characterized as the world’s worst first dates, veers off into a psychological thriller, and concludes with a twist that, guaranteed, will leave you shaken.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Vagina Monologues,” the avant-garde stage play (1996) by Eve Ensler where women talk about sexual topics based on their experiences.

“Promising Young Woman” could be dubbed “Vagina Vigilante.”

In “Promising Young Woman,” Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) is a thirtysomething woman who dropped out of medical school. She is living with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown) and working in a coffee shop with sassy coworker Gail (Laverne Cox).

Cassie trolls nightclubs and bars for men. She pretends she is drunk. When a man typically hits on her and they go to his apartment, she hits on him, as in beating him up, or she belittles him.

Cassie is acting out on behalf of a college friend, Nina, a victim of rape at a fraternity party, who died, possibly by suicide.

Cassie meets key figures in Nina’s tragic story: a female friend from college, Madison (Alison Brie), who was apparently aware of the situation; the dean (Connie Britton) at the college when the rape occurred; the attorney (Alfred Molina) who defended the student charged with the assault, and Nina’s mother, Mrs. Fisher (Molly Shannon).

When Cassie meets Ryan (Bo Burnham), a former fellow medical student, they develop a relationship. She abandons her one-woman anti-men vigilante campaign until ...

But that would be telling. No spoilers here.

“Promising Young Woman” is directed by Emerald Fennell in her theatrical motion picture directorial debut. Fennell, who also wrote the screenplay, is a two-time Emmy nominee (as writer, TV’s “Killing Eve,” 2019) and an actress (TV’s “The Crown,” 2019-20). The plotline cleverly incorporates cellphone technology in the movie’s payoff scene.

Fennell has written an innovative screenplay that assembles the plot one by one, almost in reverse, as Cassie reconstructs the scene of the crime through contacting those apparently directly or indirectly responsible.

The result is that what was developing as a romantic comedy about a bitter woman, Cassie, and an insecure medical doctor, Ryan, takes a shocking turn.

“Promising Young Woman” deserves multiple Oscar nominations, including original screenplay, director, editing and actress (Carey Mulligan).

Mulligan (“Suffragette,” 2015; “The Great Gatsby,“ 2013; “Pride & Prejudice,” 2005) is superb as Cassie, a troubled single woman confronting college trauma by making a series of transgressive choices. Mulligan’s face can change from dimpled cuteness to truly terrifying in the instant of storm clouds cloaking a summer sky.

Bo Burnham is disarming as Ryan, a glib pediatrician. Burnham could play Shaggy in a live-action “Scooby-doo” (1969-70).

The cinematography by Director of Photography Benjamin Kracun (“Monsoon,” 2019) effectively utilizes lots of straight-on shots of the characters during dialogue scenes.

The production design by Michael Perry (Emmy nominee, TV’s “The Stand,” 1994), art direction by Liz Kloczkowski (TV’s “How To Get Away With Murder,” 2018-20) and costume design by Rae Deslich (Emmy nominee, “Drunk History,” 2020) utilizes bright colors, overlit scenes and kitchy interiors (The French Provincial living room furniture and decor in the Thomas’s home could be straight out of a John Waters’ film.).

“Promising Young Woman,” for its luridness, shock value and ironic use of music, recalls David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” (1986), Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” (1994), the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” (1996) and David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” (2014).

My quibble with the film is its generic title, “Promising Young Woman,” which never really connects with its protagonist, Cassie, to whom the title apparently refers. The title could also refer to Nina. Or the title could refer to both of them and victims of sexual abuse.

Moreover, the title, “Promising Young Woman,” doesn’t convey the underlying seriousness of the film’s concerns: date rape, power dynamics of men and women, and sexual assault.

A better choice for the film’s title would have been “Angel of the Morning” (1982), sung by Juice Newton, and invoked on the soundtrack as the film’s apotheosis.

Cassie, after all, is an avenging angel.

“Promising Young Woman,”

MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use; Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller; Run Time: 1 hr., 53 min. Distributed by Focus Features.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“Promising Young Woman” includes a scene from “The Night Of The Hunter” (1955), starring Robert Mitchum.

Mulligan nominated:

Carey Mulligan has received a Screen Actors Guild actress nomination and a Golden Globe actress nomination, drama, for “Promising Young Woman.”

At the Movies:

“Promising Young Woman” was seen at AMC Center Valley 16, The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, Upper Saucon Township. Online ticket purchasing, face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizers were in effect. This time, I bought a Barq’s Birch Beer and popcorn. I was upgraded to a popcorn bucket so large I could have used a diving board.

Movie Box Office,

Jan. 29-31: “The Croods: A New Age” pulled the old switcheroo, moving up one place back to No. 1 with $1.8 million, on 1,875 screens; $43.9 million, 10 weeks, displacing “The Marksman,” which dropped one place to No. 2 after a two-week run at No. 1, with $1.2 million, on 2,018 screens, $7.8 million, three weeks.

3. “Monster Hunter” moved up one place, $740,000, 1,661 screens; $11.1 million, seven weeks. 4. “News Of The World” moved up one place, $540,000, 1,953 screens; $10.3 million, six weeks. 5. “Promising Young Woman” moved up two places, $260,000, 1,333 screens; $4.3 million, six weeks. 6. “Fatale” stayed in place, $220,000, 1,175 screens, $5.5 million, seven weeks. 7. “The War With Grandpa,” starring Allentown’s Oakes Fegley, moved up two places, $147,050, 507 screens, $19.6 million, 17 weeks. 8. “Our Friend,” $135,000, opening, 274 screens, $428,776, two weeks. 9. “Supernova,” $98,670, 320 screens, opening. 10. “Come Play,” starring Allentown’s Winslow Fegley, moved up two places, $95,000, 159 screens; $10 million, 14 weeks

Box office figures are from Box Office Mojo


Feb. 5:


R: Viggo Mortensen directs himself, Laura Linney and Lance Henriksen in the Drama from a screenplay that Mortensen wrote. A Los Angeles man is visited by his aging father.

“Little Fish,”

No MPAA rating: Chad Hartigan directs the Olivia Cooke, Jack O’Connell and Soko in the Romance, Science-Fiction film. A couple tries to stay together when a virus threatens to erace their memories.


R: Andrew Levitas directs Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Katherine Jenkins and Minami in the Drama. War photographer W. Eugene Smith returns to Japan to document the effects of mercury poisoning.

“The Reckoning,”

No MPAA rating: Neil Marshall directs Sean Pertwee, Joe Anderson and Charlotte Kirk in the Horror film. A young widow is accused of being a witch.

“Two of Us,”

No MPAA rating: Filippo Meneghetti directs Nina Dorn and Martine Chevallier in the Romance Drama. Two elderly women face a challenge.

Movie opening dates are from Internet Movie Database

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY FOCUS FEATURES Carey Mulligan (Cassie), “Promising Young Woman.”