Top Ten Movies of 2020 — Number Four

Promising Young Woman holds fury in its bones. The feature directorial debut of Emerald Fennell has the structure of a revenge thriller and the spirit of a black comedy. Embedding with Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) as she exacts elaborate schemes of retribution, against both predatory men in general and the specific perpetrators and appeasers of a past crime, the film has an arsenic wit and arched-eyebrow certainty. It’s colorful and hard-hitting, moving with a bristling energy and presenting images with dazzling elegance. Although the has important points to make, it’s no diatribe. Fennell commits herself to making the material entertaining even at its switchblade jabs of commentary draw blood. Trafficking in wish fulfillment and worst case scenario at the same time, Promising Young Woman boldly uses the same narrative clockwork that sets the pulse for countless flicks where square-jawed bruisers triumph over blandly villainous adversaries. Fennell give the familiar scheme a lightning-bolt crackle with her perspective, informed, no doubt, by a lifetime of confronting cads who expect her to demurely acquiesce to their whims, interests, and desires. At the forefront of the film, Mulligan gives a performance that pivots from confident charisma to internalized agony to headstrong determination, astutely showing how all these qualities coalesce into one being, making her choices, especially the boldest ones, feel inevitable. With ingenious and heroism, Promising Young Woman streaks on its eyeliner and blithely spits in the steaming cup of casual misogyny that poisons our social structures.

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