Every week, year-old Cassie Thomas goes to a nightclub alone and pretends to be drunk. And she does a convincing job.
She is unsteady on her feet, her eyes unfocused, her speech slurred. It usually isn't long before an apparently kind man approaches and offers to help her get home.
Every girl should be married
Except they don't take her home. More often than not, they find an excuse to take her back to their place instead, in the hope she's so drunk they'll be able to have sex with her. They ignore her comments about not feeling well or wanting to go to sleep. It's normally when they begin taking her clothes off that their plan starts to go wrong. Suddenly, Cassie's eyes snap into focus, and the tone of the voice turns deadly.
She isn't drunk at all, and the hunter is about to become the hunted. This is the premise of Promising Young Woman, a new film starring Carey Mulligan and directed by Emerald Fennell, and which has picked up five nominations for this year's Oscars. Fennell, who was a producer and writer on the series of Killing Eve and plays Camilla Parker Bowles now the Duchess of Cornwall in The Crown, drew on her own experiences seeing drunk girls being taken advantage of when coming up with the concept.
It was absolutely commonplace when I was growing up, I think probably in most places it still is. Hearing the premise and watching the trailer, it would be easy to think Promising Young Woman is a feminist polemic which unfairly tarnishes all men with the same brush. But it's a bit more complicated than that. Cassie is not presented as morally superior, and many of her own actions are reprehensible.
There are also several female characters in the film who also face Cassie's wrath over their own dubious behaviour. Whether it's the college dean who didn't properly investigate an assault accusation, or the friend of a rape victim who turns a blind eye.
To varying degrees, there are multiple characters, of both sexes, who are complicit. She adds: "I don't think it's a polemic against men, but it's a polemic against the culture that we all grew up in which tends to side with men more than it does with women. Promising Young Woman was due to come out last spring, not long after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.
The film was delayed due to the pandemic, but early reviews were broadly positive. But not everybody thought the film hit the correct notes. They also deserve better movies than this one.
Promising young woman: carey mulligan film 'deeply troubling'
Mulligan, who shot to fame in the late s after starring in An Education, says the complexity of Cassie's character was what appealed to her. So she's stuck, but she's also spinning, so there was so much going on, and I kind of grabbed it with both hands. While the actress's performance has been praised by some, one review of the film sparked controversy after the critic questioned whether Mulligan was believable in her role. Variety's Dennis Harvey suggested she was an "odd choice", adding the film's producer Margot Robbie might have been a better fit. Mulligan publicly objected to the review, which she said was essentially questioning whether she was "hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse".
Commenting on an actress's looks felt out of step with the current climate, she argued. Variety apologised, and Mulligan later took part in a video interview for the publication, commenting: "I was really surprised and thrilled, and happy to have received an apology. I kind of found it moving, in a way, to have drawn a line under that in a good way.
But Harvey objected to being labelled a misogynist and stood by his reviewsaying Mulligan had misrepresented his words. I don't actually go around dwelling on the comparative hotness of young actresses," he said. He was backed up by the National Society of Film Critics.
When we speak in mid-January, it's clear that Fennell has serious awards season momentum.
Lars and the real girl
Fennell says she's delighted just to be in the conversation. Sure enough, shortly after our interview takes place, Fennell is nominated for best director at the Golden Globes alongside King and Zhao - the first time there have been three female nominees in the category.
Oscar nominations followed for Zhao and Fennell earlier this month. But glitzy awards ceremonies aside, it will be hard to ascertain how much impact the film will have. Promising Young Woman won't reach every person on the planet who needs to see it, which raises the question, how will society ever change its behaviour?
And all Cassie is looking for is one person to say 'this is profoundly wrong, and you're right to be angry, this shouldn't have happened,' but nobody wants to because nobody wants to admit they've been part of something so dreadful. Mulligan 'felt too lucky' to query pay. Carey Mulligan on dementia and music.
Review controversy. Related Topics. More on this story.
Published 10 May Published 27 December