4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Carey Mulligan received an Oscar nomination for her role as Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas, who dropped out of medical school and by day works at a coffee shop.
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“A PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2020; R for strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, and drug use; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: Multi-part making-of documentary
IN SOME ways, you couldn’t find a more satisfying female revenge fantasy than the one imagined in “A Promising Young Woman.” It’s the story of a smart, pretty Los Angeles woman who methodically metes out gotchas and comeuppances for those people she blames — either directly or indirectly — for the terrible fate that befell her best friend Nina Fisher.
Carey Mulligan plays Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas, who’s about to turn 30, and is pathologically obsessed with what happened to Nina (whom we only see in photos), several years earlier, a victim of an assault by fellow medical students, leading to a tragic outcome. We learn that Cassie quit med-school because of the incident, still lives with her parents, and works in a neon-colored coffee shop.
In her off time, she plots and enacts her elaborate schemes of vengeance against the seemingly “nice guys” that become increasingly outrageous and risky, but almost always achieve the desired results – even at the shocker finale.
English writer/director Emerald Fennell joins an elite club of first-time filmmakers who received an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The group includes Orson Welles “Citizen Kane,” Delbert Mann “Marty,” Sidney Lumet “12 Angry Men,” Mike Nicolas “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Robert Redford “Ordinary People,” James L. Brooks “Terms of Endearment,” Roland Joffé “The Killing Fields,” John Singleton “Boyz n the Hood,” Sam Mendes “American Beauty,” Spike Jonze “Being John Malkovich,” Tony Gilroy “Michael Clayton” and Benh Zeitlin “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
(1-4) At night, Cassie plots and enacts her elaborate schemes of vengeance against seemingly “nice guys,” for the terrible fate that befell her best friend Nina Fisher. At a local nightclub, she plays as if she’s hammered, and one night a "nice guy" named Jerry (Adam Brody) offers to take her home, but instead takes her back to his apartment to have sex. (5) Surprise! Cassie is sober and Jerry receives her wrath. (6) Once home at her parent’s house, she keeps a log of her encounters.
Fennell is also an actress (“The Crown”) and has a cameo in her film. She received an Oscar nod for her screenplay, and on Sunday night the Writers Guild selected “Promising Young Woman” as the Best Original Screenplay, a possible forerunner to an Oscar win. She tells Cassie’s story with glitz and style, against a pop-tune-filled score, and via a variety of genres.
It's part rom-com, part dark comedy, part thriller, part drama – a little bit “Clueless” with a sprinkling of “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Unfortunately, the comedy isn’t very funny, the rom-com is filled with cringe-inducing clichés, and the thriller is only mildly thrilling – with most of the story beyond implausible. As Fennell’s first feature and, in a way, its timing couldn’t be more perfect. The subject matter deals with men’s sexual assault of women, especially those incapacitated by too much alcohol or drugs and jibes well with the #MeToo movement and the events surrounding it, as well as the recent pressure on awards organizations to recognize women directors – all serious and worthwhile issues.
Possibly it’s for those reasons that “Promising Young Woman” also received Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Actress for Mulligan. Fresh from her pitch-perfect performance in Netflix’s excellent “The Dig,” Mulligan does the best she can with the material – as does the rest of the cast, which includes Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Cassie’s mother Susan; Clancy Brown, as her father Stanley; the super tall Bo Burnham, as Ryan a former classmate, now a pediatric surgeon and boyfriend; Laverne Cox, the delightful coffee shop owner Gail; Connie Britton, as Dean Walker of Forrest University; Alison Brie, as former friend Madison, now a mother of twins who didn’t speak up after the assault and Alfred Molina, the attorney who received a bonus for the dropped case against med-student Al Monroe played by Chris Lowell.
(1) Cassie’s parents Susan (Jennifer Coolidge) and Stanley (Clancy Brown) are worried about her state of mind. (2-4) Ryan (Bo Burnham) a former classmate bumps into Cassie at work. She gives his coffee a surprise ingredient, which doesn’t seem to phase him.
The exclusive 4K presentation on digital platforms was captured on 2.8K digital cameras with cinematographer Benjamin Kracun (“Beast”) and mastered in 2K.
The visual differences between the 4K digital and the physical Blu-ray is minimal with its sharpness and clarity, but the HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading is darker, accentuates the film’s dark theme. The facial toning is also more balanced with mid-tones and highlights, and truer colors with Cassie’s colorful wardrobe. While the Blu-ray color palette seems too garish and bright at times.
Not often does the digital version feature the eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, while the physical Blu-ray doesn’t. But, that’s the case here. The effects and music cues to your height speakers are quite active, especially during the nightclub scenes and with the opening track “Boys’” (Doreloe Remix) by Carli XCX.
Throughout the subwoofer gets a good workout, including with tunes “Last Laugh” by Fletcher and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” by Donna Missal. The classic “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton is a key song during the final act and Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” provides the music backdrop for a drugstore lip sync moment between Cassie and Ryan. The dialogue never gets lost with the pounding music and the strings heavy score from Anthony Willis, and his haunting rendition of Britney Spears “Toxic” before Cassie’s final revenge and the female vocal during the “Hymn for Nina.”
(1) Cassie gives the mirror a “Joker” moment with the smeared lipstick, before going out on the town for another encounter. (2) Neil (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) takes Cassie back to his apartment and tries to get her to snort cocaine. (3) After writing Neil’s name into her notepad, she looks at the picture of her and Nina.
The director’s commentary (digital & disc) spends way too much time on exposition and lavishing praise on her cast and costume designer, as well as a rather brief three-part making-of documentary. She describes the plot as well as “how a woman might take revenge in the real world.”
She’s also “more interested in our culture than in exploring terrible acts of violence,” and acknowledges the “kinds of things that happened when I was at university that seemed completely normal — but looking back, were horrendous.” She adds, “Having had experience as an actress is highly beneficial. Over the years, I learned what makes performers comfortable and confident enough to deliver a performance.”
She describes the film’s tone as a “horrifyingly dark comedy and a thriller … it’s on the razor’s edge, both horrendous and hilarious.” Burnham thought it was “very exciting for a woman to direct a piece of art that explores the gray areas and complexities of the issue.”
Cox comments on Fennell’s depictions of the characters in the film: “Nobody’s all good or all bad. There are great people who have done not too great things (and that’s most of us),” and praises the “sense of justice at the end of the film.”
Mulligan, who, like Fennell and Molina, is English, an executive producer, and believes that the issue is not a “male/female” one, but a “societal one.” She adds that Fennell “didn’t want to make a gritty independent film … but an entertaining, beautiful, visually exciting, and thrilling one.” Beautiful and visually exciting, maybe. Entertaining and thrilling, not so much.
— Peggy Earle
(1) Ryan and Cassie go on their first date. (2) Laverne Cox gives a delightful performance as Gail the coffee shop owner. (3&4) Cassie sets up a lunch date with former med-school friend Madison (Alison Brie), which involves several bottles of wine.
(1) Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” provides the musical backdrop for a drugstore lip sync moment with Cassie and Ryan. (2) Cassie visits Nina’s mother (Molly Shannon). (3) And, she’s overcome with emotion after watching a cellphone video of the assault on Nina.
(1-3) Cassie’s final revenge during a bachelor’s party weekend.
Behind the scenes Video