Best Served Cold – Promising Young Woman (2020)

This was the indie movie that had been on my radar since its premiere at Sundance in January of 2020. Almost a year later, after multiple delays, it got its theatrical release on Christmas Day (probably to make sure it was eligible for awards season). There aren’t too many movies I’d go the extra mile to do the drive-in experience for, but I couldn’t wait it out anymore and it was totally worth it.

Writer/Director Emerald Fennell’s feature-length debut brings us the story of a young woman who attempts to exorcise the trauma of her past by taking revenge on those responsible and many others along the way. 

Emerald Fennell (right) on location discussing a scene with her lead, Carey Mulligan (left)

Fennell’s film doesn’t hide the fact that vengeance is on the menu but it’s not your typical revenge fantasy. Her screenplay is rooted in her character’s (Cassandra) trauma and the myriad of negative effects it has on her life. It’s also much more of a scathing tear down of, let’s call it, “bro culture” and the environment of entitlement and societal acceptance that protects it. Keeping that in mind, it also succeeds as a very funny, very dark comedy in the process. Its ability to present an important and well-thought-out criticism of a large-scale cultural problem while still having fun along the way maybe took some sting out of the punch, but it also made it a lot more digestible. Fennell’s fluidity in navigating that space is impressive and I’m excited to see what’s next for her. 

One of many different looks for Carey Mulligan in this movie

A big part of the buzz surrounding this project was Carey Mulligan’s performance in the lead, which is why rolling out a limited release on Christmas was important. Simply put, she’s magnetic. Her character, Cassie, is haunted by past tragedy and Mulligan wears it with devilish ferocity, but there’s a wide range of emotion she goes through as the film intertwines genres. The Oscar buzz is warranted for her performance but I haven’t seen enough in 2020 to give it context on a larger scale.

Alison Brie, Bo Burnham join 'Promising Young Woman' cast | English Movie  News - Times of India
From left to right, Bo Burnham, Allison Brie, Connie Britton, and Adam Brody

The project drew a lot of talent to the smaller supporting roles as well. Bo Burnham is excellent as Cassie’s former college classmate and potential love interest. His experience as a comedian works beautifully in this script. Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are subtly very good as her parents. You also get what amounts to a number of good cameos from Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Alfred Molina, Allison Brie, Connie Britton, and Molly Shannon. All their little character interactions help shape the narrative and give Cassie’s perspective deeper meaning and understanding. 

You don’t see Music Supervisor in the opening credits very often but it’s definitely warranted in this case for Susan Jacobs. The soundtrack is fantastic and is a big part of crafting the emotional identity of this film. The original score by Anthony Willis fills in the gaps wonderfully, providing depth and context.

The cinematography by Benjamin Kracun is excellent. There are several scenes where the shot framing makes the whole scene pop. It’s incredibly colorful throughout and really an aesthetic pleasure to watch. There are also some visual allusions to different cinematic iterations of the Joker (yes, the Batman villain) that stood out to me. Maybe Fennell is just a fan of that character and liked the visual aesthetic but I’m thinking it goes deeper. In Christopher Nolan’s version, the Joker is an agent of chaos and that lines up pretty well contextually with this film’s final act. Todd Philips’ iteration is a character who’s gradually formed over time in response to trauma. Thematically that fits really well too and both of those films are iconic for their portrayals of the character. Call me crazy, but I think there’s something to it.

I might be crazy, but I don’t think so

While I didn’t see the usual 100 or so films I would have seen during the course of 2020, this one still stands out as something unique. It’s tough to say where it lands in the bigger cinematic picture for 2020, but it’s one of the best efforts I saw.

Recommendation: If you can handle some uncomfortable subject matter, and are just a fan of good movies, this is well worth going the extra mile for.

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