Promising Young Woman opens with the beats of Charli XCX's "Boys." If you're familiar with the 2017 song, it's almost impossible to extricate it from its music video, which features all sorts of hot celebrity men preening for the camera in various states of undress. Those are not the kind of images that start Promising Young Woman, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend. Rather, it's gyrating hips of men wearing khakis, blissfully unaware of the space they are taking up and how gross they are. In Promising Young Women, "boys" and boyish behavior are not things to be proud of or celebrated; they're constant threats that need to be extinguished at all costs.
"Boys" is just one of many hilarious pop music cues that course through this funny, upsetting, and thrilling response to the #MeToo movement by director Emerald Fennell, best known as Camilla on The Crown and the Season 2 showrunner of Killing Eve. It's the rare movie that had people at Sundance debating its viciously disturbing ending and also humming Paris Hilton's 2006 foray into singing, "Stars Are Blind."
These are the games Promising Young Woman is playing as both a confection and a movie that burrows under your skin. Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, a woman who we first meet near passed out in the banquette of a bar filled with dudes in ill-fitting suits, pounding drinks. But Cassie is not actually passed out. This is a thing she does: She goes to a club, pretends to be drunk to the point of incapacitation, and waits until a guy comes over under the pretenses of being nice, but is looking to take advantage of her.