Given the seismic impact of the #MeToo movement on the worldwide film industry, it was only a matter of time before the issue formed the basis of a movie. Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a young college dropout whose life has been scarred by a mysterious trauma that claimed the life of her best friend, Nina. Cassie’s unusual means of seeking revenge takes her to bars and clubs, where she poses as an incapacitated drunk—then turns the tables on the predatory men who try to take advantage of her.
Although it is certainly timely in its confrontation of sexual harassment, the film’s triple Oscar-nominated director Fennell said during Focus Features’ panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees virtual event that this was not necessarily her intention.
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“I don’t know how much of that was deliberate, to be honest,” she said. “I mean, of course it’s something that I think everyone is [now] aware of, hugely. Really, what I was interested in was how common this kind of assault is across the board—everywhere from campuses to schools, to nightclubs and bars and pubs everywhere. There had certainly been a lot of news stories at the time about this stuff, but, generally speaking, I was just looking at something I’d seen happen time and time again as a young woman growing up.”
To find the character, Best Actress nominee Mulligan had to dig deep. “I really had a lot of conversations with Emerald [about it],” she said. “I think what was important was feeling [that Cassie’s pain] is not fresh—this is something that she’s been carrying for a decade, y’know? It’s a pain and an anger that’s really embedded in her.”
For producer Ben Browning, Fennell’s film was a go from the script stage. “What really was interesting about it,” he said, “was the amount of debate—even amongst those of us that had read it at that point—about what it was and what it had to say. It was clearly an unusual script, but when Emerald started to pitch it, it was clear that she had a real command of the tone and a real command of the different elements that she wanted to use to try and tell a story. Yeah, it has a social perspective, but it’s also entertaining and manages to draw an audience in while dealing with a really serious subject matter. It was those elements together that I thought could work—and then, magnificently, they did.”
Editor Frédéric Thoraval agreed. “Like Ben said, it’s an unusual movie,” he affirmed. “Usually you would have the trauma at the beginning and then you’d have the attention of the people, but we don’t have that. It’s a movie where the story’s unraveling slowly at each step. And that was one of the great challenges, to have an emotional connection with Carey’s character from the beginning. And that’s why it was so important to have such a stellar performance, because it helped us tremendously in the cutting room.”
Check out the panel conversation above.
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