SEATTLE — Part revenge fantasy, part dark comedy, and part commentary about injustice, Promising Young Woman is bound to surprise you.
Emerald Fennell wrote and directed the film, which stars Carey Mulligan. She plays Cassie - a former medical school student working as a barista, whose mysterious past inspired her after-hours hobby: going to bars, pretending to be drunk, letting a man take her home, and revealing she is, in fact, quite sober.
Her seemingly innocent appearance almost dares men to underestimate her and face the consequences, as co-star Bo Burnham learns in a pivotal coffee shop scene.
Mulligan and Fennell talked to entertainment reporter Kim Holcomb via Zoom.
HOLCOMB: "I feel like it should be required viewing for everyone, is that something we can do?
FENNELL: “(laughter) I hope so! I think every girl knows how to use her makeup and clothes to their best advantage because that's kind of what we've been brought up to do. So it's really interesting to see a character weaponize that."
HOLCOMB: "When do you feel like maybe you've been underestimated in your own life?"
MULLIGAN: "I was made to be the male dancer in all of our school ballet shows because I wasn't deemed to be a good enough ballet dancer to be a girl, so my job was to go on the stage and roll all of the princess ballerina in and roll them out, and I felt deeply underestimated."
HOLCOMB: "Emerald, what would you say Carrie has the most in common with Cassie, and the least in common? And Carey, feel free to give a thumbs up or down."
FENNELL: "So hard, because they're so profoundly different. The most in common I think is that she knows what's going on, she sees everything. And I think Cassie does too."
(Carrie gives thumbs up)
FENNELL: "I think Carey is much less likely to go on any kind of rampage - I can't say that for sure. I don't know, it's on the cusp."
(Carey gives a sideways thumb, laughs)
HOLCOMB: "Having worked in an espresso bar myself for quite some time myself in college, I had many awkward interactions. Never did I spit in someone's cup. And I found that so deeply satisfying to watch. Carey, was there anything that was particularly satisfying for you to act out on camera in this film?”
MULLIGAN: “I mean, that was a joy. And the fact that Bo drank it, like numerous times. Smashing out the car was quite good fun. I mean, honestly every day was. There was so much fun and satisfaction in playing some of these things out, but also just getting to work with this incredible cast."
HOLCOMB: “When I watched one of the scenes in particular, my toes curled. Is that the right reaction? Is that what you’re hoping for?”
FENNELL: "The one-sided kiss I think is one of the most toe-curling moments. (laughs) The hope is that everyone has a slightly different reaction because everyone's bringing so much stuff to this. It's such a complicated thing. I hope that at least people will come out of it wanting to talk about it. I don't have any answers. The only thing any of us can do is maybe make something that cracks things open a bit more."
Promising Young Woman is rated R and is now playing in select theaters.