A 35-year-old woman gets drunk at a club and goes home with a stranger. What, we ask? Another movie about a confused single woman who stumbles toward late-picture self-realization? Or worse, a looming romcom?
In the hands of first-time director Emerald Fennell and star Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman becomes something more.
Turns out that Mulligan's Cassie (short for Cassandra) is an avenger. Born into a world of tolerated sexual abuse, Cassie feigns drunken submission before humiliating the horny but unsuspecting guys she picks up.
Cassie, who dropped out of medical school, works as a barista in a coffee shop owned by the savvy Gail (Lavern Cox), a character who helps fulfill the movie's wisecrack quota.
I won't tell you what pushed Cassie into an under-achieving life devoted to avenging herself on men but the explanation allows Fennell to assay some of the ways in which women who've been abused can be treated.
Ruthless as she can be with men, Cassie hasn't totally give up on the opposite sex. Ryan (Bo Burnham) shows up at the coffee shop: A pediatric surgeon, Ryan attended med school with Cassie. He knows that she's whip-smart and begins his pursuit. Cassie doesn't make it easy for him, but he persists and ultimately, her cast-iron will begins to bend.
A supporting cast that includes Alison Brie and Connie Britton, also boasts a fine small performance by Alfred Molina as a regretful, self-hating lawyer.
Mulligan ably fills the movie's center, even if you can see some of the twists coming and an exaggerated conflation of events strains credibility at the very end.
Maybe it doesn't matter. Fennell, the actress who plays Camilla Parker Bowles on The Crown and who served as a show runner on the Killing Eve series, knows that when you put so much in motion, there must be an out-sized payoff. She tries hard to deliver, but this could be a case in which the finale would be better appreciated in a theater where a vocally responsive audience might add some extra charge.
Still, Fennell creates a pointed bit of entertainment that may not be perfect but leaves you eager to see more.