Mulligan’s Cassie gets introduced in a bar, looking very much inebriated when a male patron offers to help her get home. Her appearance, however, is actually an elaborate ruse, one designed to reel in men and dispense bracing wake-up call in the process.
What motivates Cassie, and what has her commitment to pursuing this crusade done to her once-promising life? That’s the underlying mystery in writer-director Emerald Fennell’s movie. Nearing 30, Cassie is working as a barista, hardly the life that her concerned parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) envisioned before her attitude and outlook abruptly changed.
Cassie also reconnects with some old classmates –nplayed by Bo Burnham and Alison Brie — pointing toward a particular end game that she has in mind. It also offers the prospect of finding options that might divert her perilous path, which recalls the old saw about the toll of devoting one’s life to vengeance.
The unsettling focus here, rather, involves the terrible things that seemingly ordinary guys can do when they think no one’s looking and that they can get away with it — with Cassie forcing them not only to see the victim, but to look in a harsh mirror and see themselves as predators.
It’s a movie that will likely leave people thinking — a talker, as they say — and that’s all to the good. The reservations come down to tone and consistency in the mix of darkness and humor, and a flawed ending that nevertheless shouldn’t be spoiled.
Yet for all the movie has going for it, “Promising Young Woman” doesn’t live up to its promise. That’s a common problem with such an exercise when you don’t quite stick the landing.
“Promising Young Woman” premieres Dec. 25 in theaters. It’s rated R.