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How Promising Young Woman Became This Year's Best Revenge Thriller

How 'Promising Young Woman' Became This Year's Best Revenge Thriller

How 'Promising Young Woman' Became This Year's Best Revenge Thriller

PRIDE chats with stars Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham and writer-director Emerald Fennell about crafting 2020's most unforgettable revenge flick.


If you're up for one more thrill-ride in what was already a complete and total roller coaster of a year, Focus Features' latest release, — Promising Young Woman — is here for you.

Written and directed by Killing Eve showrunner/powerhouse Emerald Fennell and starring Oscar-nominated actress Carey Mulligan (An EducationThe Great Gatsby), with an all-star supporting cast that includes comedian Bo Burnham (Eighth Grade), Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), Alison Brie (Horse Girl, Happiest Season), Connie Britton (American Horror Story, Friday Night Lights), Alfred Molina, Adam Brody, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, and more, Promising Young Woman follows the story of Cassie Thomas, a med-school dropout and barista who, after the horrific assault of her best friend Nina, takes matters into her own hands to confront "nice guys" (we all know a few) who like to take advantage of women. Shifting tonally between fun, heartfelt, neon-lit moments to scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat, Promising Young Woman is a fresh, and realistic, take on the revenge genre — and one of this season's standout films. 

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PRIDE got the chance to speak to stars Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham as well as writer-director Emerald Fennell about subverting revenge film tropes, showcasing women's rage on-screen, working with LGBTQ+ icon Laverne Cox, the dangers of "good guys" and so much more! 

Warning! Expect some Promising Young Woman spoilers ahead! 

"It was just one of those parts that I felt ownership over. I felt like if anybody else did it I would have been kind of really annoyed and unable to get through it in a cinema," Carey Mulligan told PRIDE about why she wanted to be a part of Emerald's project. "It just felt like a no-brainer really."

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And speaking about starring in a revenge film where the main focus is the allyship, loyalty, and love between two women, Cassie and Nina, Carey said:

"We often see revenge movies with these kinds of dynamics play out, but it's usually a man acting on behalf of their daughter or, you know, it's very often. We very rarely see this kind of sisterhood portrayed on screen, and it's such a massive part of your upbringing if you have that closest friend in the world that can inform so much about you, and you really experience so much of the world with that person. What Emerald's done so beautifully is shown a representation of that sorority and sisterhood on screen, but without ever even seeing Nina. You never see her, the audience is left to imagine her, and I think in some ways, because you have that space to imagine, you can kind of put your own person in there. That's far better than having a flashback to an actor that we don't have any associates or connections with that you are left to sort of ponder that person."

"At the beginning, I was so interested in examining how rage manifests itself, particularly but not exclusively in women. We're used to seeing, particularly in the revenge thriller genre, the tropes that we see there are women who kind of mimick men's journeys in these kinds of movies, which is they snap and they resort to violent retribution," Emerald Fennell told PRIDE about crafting a more nuanced and realistic portrayal of women and women's rage than is usual for the revenge genre. "That just didn't seem to ring true to me on any level because women so rarely resort to violence in their lives. It's just very, very uncommon. And there's a reason they don't, which is what we see in this movie. There's a reason they don't, because it's not safe, and it's not wise. It's very hard to win. So, I had to kind of think about how rage does manifest itself and how a real woman might take revenge."

What Promising Young Woman also does well is taking on the idea of the "nice guy," and how toxic these "nice guys" are when it comes to the way they view and treat women in the real world.

"Crucially, this is a cultural thing," Emerald said. "Of course it involves specific people, specific incidents, but this stuff is just so normalized by the world that I grew up in. Getting people drunk and taking them home, that's just part of seduction culture. These are just jokes in comedy movies, these were jokes in TV shows. The consent conversation, it's only really just starting now. That stuff was so normal, so it's important to me to look at people who not only present as good guys, but they think they are good guys. This is something that it has never really occurred to them how icky it is, how bad it is, how horrifying what they're doing is, until they're caught because actually, it's just been overlooked." 

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"It feels like very important that the Me Too conversations would extend past just the clearly criminal monsters, like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby," Bo Burnham said about the portrayal of "nice guys" in Promising Young Woman. "There's been so much defensiveness from straight men about interrogating any behavior that is less than criminal. Obviously, if the problem was just cutting out that sort of tumorous criminals amongst us, it would be much easier to address, but the truth is the problem does extend downward into a whole culture."

Bo continued:

"It's not that all men are irredeemable, but it's definitely that no man is beyond self-examination, and I think the movie very definitely sort of says that there's that particular type of nice, heterosexual guy who identifies with his own goodness solely and just thinks that that is his first defining trait. The type of man that defines himself as one of the good guys, who's not like the other guys, can be one of the most dangerous because they're the ones that are so sure that they don't need to be self-reflective and don't need to examine themselves. I think also the movie invites those types of men into the conversation. That's what was exciting about the movie to me. It's a way to have this conversation without guys getting so defensive because it's a fun, exciting, thrilling sort of movie."

Promising Young Woman is in theaters now!

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