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Promising Young Woman

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What it’s about:

Haunted by a traumatic event in her past, a med school dropout finds a shocking way to teach a few lessons in this genre-twisting awards contender.

Names you might know:

Starring Carrie Mulligan (The Dig, An Education), the film boasts an impressive supporting cast with Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox, Bo Burnham, Alfred Molina, Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, and Molly Shannon. Produced by Margot Robbie, it’s written and directed by Emerald Fennell, who is the showrunner for Killing Eve, and also plays Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown.

Why it’s worth your time:

With a truly original script, an all-star cast, and a conversation-driving theme, Promising Young Woman is the rare film that will provoke you and stay with you.

But brace yourself, for it will also mess with you. That is exactly the point, as this is a story that scrapes at the ways that people mess with each other.

The skill here is in the film’s ability to thwart your expectations. It begins with Carey Mulligan, who got her start in Jane Austen adaptations, and broke out in her Oscar-nominated turn as an English schoolgirl in An Education. “Sweet” is how the Coen brothers described her when they cast her in Inside Llewyn Davis. “I used to have a typecast thing, and I fought my age and baby face,” she told the Guardian in 2014.

You have not met this version of Mulligan. All grown up and all American, she’s a 30-year-old every woman, except for the fact she was once a promising med student who somehow ended up living at home with her parents, spending her nights with strangers at late night clubs. For reasons we will come to understand, she is now a jaded barista with no apparent ambition.

The script masters a few dramatic tonal shifts, hovering between a dark comedy, with sharp-elbowed banter and satirical punches, and a psychological thriller. Yet there’s also a promising young romance and a scene that will make you think you’ve been dropped into an indie rom-com. Then, suddenly, a queasiness sets in, along with the realization that your own assumptions were—much like those of the characters—very wrong. Actors known for their network sitcom chops, like Max Greenfield and Adam Brody, goad you into thinking you’re entering lighter territory again, when your stomach plummets once more, the sudden realization that the funny, flattering, protective person who offered to save our protagonist from the creeps is actually one of them.

Stick around for the ending, as there’s a pay off—and you likely won’t see it coming.

The takeaway:

Brace yourself for this rattling awards contender, for it will mess with you, but it will also stay with you.

Watch it with:

A friend from school days, as you might want to talk about it afterward. There are moments when I felt like it should be slipped into freshman (or med school) orientation. But as Mulligan herself explains it, “This is a film that you want to see, you don’t feel like you ought to.”

Worth noting:

While rape is not actually depicted, there is a phone video that a character watches which depicts a rape. There’s also a violent scene in the third act.

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