Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut Promising Younger Lady may have simply been your traditional revenge fantasy thriller, with its story of Cassie, a grief-stricken, silently enraged girl on a mission to show each final sexual predator on the town. Solely it’s a lot extra. Styled like an entrancing ’90s romcom, it wrongfoots the viewer at each flip with its fluffy-sweatered, heart-printed world, punctuated by cupcakes and pop songs. With Carey Mulligan’s blood-curdlingly underplayed efficiency as Cassie, Fennell leads us down a deceptively fairly backyard path to the actual fact about sexual assault and society’s turning of the opposite cheek, in a journey so twisty we by no means see its finish coming. Antonia Blyth meets Fennell and Mulligan to learn the way they disguised a really thought-provoking shocker as a fairly pink love story.
‘Promising Younger Lady’ Evaluate: A Phenomenal Carey Mulligan Powers Director Emerald Fennell’s Beautiful Function Debut
“We’ve both gone completely potty,” Emerald Fennell says, as she fires off a textual content to Carey Mulligan throughout our Zoom assembly. It’s a GIF of an awkwardly dancing Theresa Could, ex-UK Prime Minister. Deadline’s photographer has requested the pair to bop to seize some enjoyable footage, and this GIF is Fennell’s impression of the outcomes. “I was like, I don’t know f—ing how,” Mulligan explains. “So, we did the macarena.”
“There’s an order to it. You can understand it,” Fennell deadpans. Each their faces twitch with suppressed laughter.
That is the form of punch-drunk sisterhood that comes from both years of friendship or a really intense mutual expertise—on this case, the latter, and the making of maybe one of the crucial arresting and intelligent movies ever to deal with sexual harassment and its penalties.
Promising Younger Lady, written and directed by Fennell, follows Mulligan as Cassie, a med faculty dropout who spends her evenings in bars, faking the sort of lost-my-phone stage of drunkenness predators can’t resist. The so-called ‘nice guys’ who provide to assist her again to their place after which make a transfer on her semi-conscious physique are petrified when she then abruptly reveals herself to be stone-cold sober, bolting upright with a testicle-shriveling “What are you doing?”
The place a lesser movie would have made that the entire story, Fennell as a substitute weaves a rare exposé of our grey areas, our silent collusions and the darkest corners of human conduct, feeding it to us with a deceptively candy-flavored coating of nostalgic pop tunes, clean-cut Americana and pastel nail polish.
Author and showrunner of Killing Eve’s Season 2, a collection that twice earned her an Emmy nomination, Fennell can also be recognized for her front-of-camera work as Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown. She brewed up Promising Younger Lady virtually wholesale, coughing it up “like a hairball”, she says. “It probably came out because it’s something that I find incredibly troubling and I wanted to talk about.”
And the story was this: Cassie’s nocturnal actions are a symptom of horrible grief. Her childhood buddy and fellow med scholar Nina has dedicated suicide after being raped at a university occasion. And the perpetrators stay untouched, having fun with ‘good boy’ lives of privilege, because of an unscrupulous lawyer employed by wealthy mother and father, shallow associates, and a university dean who appeared the opposite manner. Cassie can not and won’t ever let this go.
As Fennell cooked up the screenplay, the soundtrack got here with it, hand-in-hand. “I don’t write at all until the end when it’s done,” she says. “When it is I’ll transcribe it, and it takes not very long. The real bulk of the work is done entirely in my head, entirely with music.”
And that music is the siren music of rose-tinted, upbeat nostalgia. Like a form of homage to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, within the midst of tragedy and devastation, there’s a deliciously incongruous, hovering pop tune—an orchestral model of Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, or a shock blast of Juice Newton’s “Angel of the Morning”. And as a substitute of sugarcoating the bitter capsule of rape and suicide, the contrasting sweetness skewers us all of the extra painfully.
From the very starting, because the movie got here to Fennell full with its soundtrack, she additionally had a rock-solid thought of the way it ought to look.
On the set of The Crown, Fennell confirmed the script to co-star Josh O’Connor. “I thought it was complete magic,” O’Connor says. “She just knows exactly what she’s going to do. She was like, ‘This is how I’m going to make it. This is what it’s going to look like.’”
Margot Robbie’s manufacturing firm LuckyChap had been early believers in her idea, and her deceptively candy, subversive method to a heavyweight topic. “I feel like Emerald had an incredibly clever approach in luring us—especially those of us who grew up in the ’90s—into nostalgic territory,” Robbie says. With “the familiar ’90s rom-com relationship dynamics we have been accustomed to seeing in films”, Robbie says Fennell is professional at “pulling the rug out from beneath us and smacking us in the face”.
As quickly as she’d learn the script, Mulligan was on board. “For ages before this film came along, people were like, ‘What part do you want? What have you not done that you want to do? What’s your dream part?’” Mulligan says. “And I couldn’t describe what it was. I would just say, ‘Well, I just know it’s not that, and I know it’s not that. I know it’s not the wife to that great man or the girlfriend who’s a ‘troubled individual’. I knew what it wasn’t. And when this came along I was like, ‘Oh, it’s that. That’s what I want to do.’”
Fennell had a temper board that had “a lot of angels” she says. “It had To Die For, Psycho and The Virgin Suicides, a lot of Sweet Valley High, a lot of tactile clothes and multicolored manicures. I wanted it to show that not only was it going to be comfortable and glossy and appealing, kind of like Cassie is, but that it could be somewhat allegorical, because if Cassie is a part of this thing, doing something completely real, in many ways it is a sort of classical journey, the allegorical story. And so, I wanted the world to feel somewhat like that too.”
That allegorical issue would later, through the shoot, show virtually too alluring.
In a scene the place Cassie confronts the lawyer (Alfred Molina) who ensured Nina’s attackers went free, he begs forgiveness at Cassie’s ft. “I was like, ‘Guys, here’s a picture of the Pietà,’” Fennell says. “So, if you could just find a way, as naturally as you can, of being in the position of Michelangelo’s Pietà by the end of this? Then we’ll pop a shaft of light on you.’”
Fennell laughs. “The shaft of light actually got nixed because, even I in the edit was like, ‘Well, this is absolutely silly. Too much.’”
As a Brit, her option to set the movie in Anytown U.S.A. felt obligatory. “It was important that nobody could say, for example, ‘Oh well this happens in England because they have a different culture.’ Or, ‘This happens in New York, because girls in New York are a little fast.’ It had to be the most accessible place, and because all of us have grown up on American culture it felt like something where the fewer people that could be let off the hook, the better.”
To attain her picture-perfect American popular culture imaginative and prescient, she went to the supply: Michael Perry, manufacturing designer on that fabled TV teen froth, Candy Valley Excessive.
“When I first met Michael, he gave me Todd’s letterman jacket,” Fennell says, referring to Candy Valley Excessive’s lead heartthrob jock character. “Every time I think about it my whole body gets like… Sometimes I wear it. If I’m feeling really peppy, I’ll just pop on Todd’s letterman jacket and think, This is it.”
Fennell had additionally admired Perry’s work on It Follows. “It was incredibly low-budget; a very short shoot time. And the way that he just gave it inherent, spooky femininity; these sort of soft shells. It was sexy, but frightening. It was brilliant. I said to him—and I do think this is true—that he’s probably responsible for millennial pink, at least in part.”
She was amused when somebody tried to derisively counsel Promising Younger Lady appeared like a ’90s Lifetime film. “I was like, ‘That is truly the greatest compliment anyone could give me.’ Could there ever be a more violent, feminine world than the world of the Lifetime movies of the ’90s?”
Fennell and Mulligan constructed Cassie by means of an ongoing dialog. And the consequence was a personality who principally seems emotionless on the floor, like a sort of angel of justice. This was one thing that required a lot inside emotion with so little floor rigidity. However, says Fennell, Mulligan was totally reduce out for the job. “You see what’s happening with so little. She’s got that thing that’s so rare to find, where she does almost nothing, and it’s almost everything.”
Lone Scherfig, who directed Mulligan’s breakout, An Schooling, noticed this specific high quality in her from very early on. “I knew that we had to see a lot from her eyes, or through her,” she says. “And she has that strong detector for what is true. She doesn’t like phoniness.”
Paul Dano, Mulligan’s longtime buddy who directed her in Wildlife, noticed it too. “Even when playing a character that has some edge or some darkness or some harshness or some shadow, Carey is still somebody you can look at and understand,” he notes.
An actual potential pitfall for Cassie was the kick-ass, ‘woman scorned’ trope.
“I think there would have been a temptation for other actors to maybe make Cassie kind of badass,” Fennell says. “It was important, certainly to me and to Carey, that she felt real; she felt like a traumatized person.”
Thus, Cassie’s actions are additionally constantly underpinned with realism. No, she has not realized to wield a samurai sword, nor will she Jiu-Jitsu her manner by means of those that have completed her flawed. As a result of that’s merely not truthful. “There’s a reason women do not resort to violence,” Fennell says. “As a result of they f—ing lose once they do.
With flip-the-script experience, Fennell sends in Adam Brody as predator primary within the opening scene. Not some beefed-up frat man, however a person instantly recognizable as an previous teen favourite, The O.C.’s nice-guy-on-wheels, Seth Cohen. (“We called him Seth behind his back all the time,” Mulligan jokes.)
Brody’s apparently considerate, feminist man rolls his eyes at his co-workers’ sexist remarks throughout after-work drinks at a cheesy membership. “Sorry about them,” he tells a fake-wasted Cassie as he will get in a cab along with her. And but he’ll quickly press an enormous drink on her, await her to (fake) cross out, after which he’ll try to sneakily whip off her panties.
Having now seen the movie, O’Connor calls it, “A blend of nostalgia and realism.” The Seth Cohen-ness of all of it actually smacked him within the face, he says. “It put you in this place of, certainly from my point of view, sexual discovery, like when all those Britney songs [were hits], that music, that color scheme, Seth Cohen.”
Bringing in teen dream references, significantly the kitschy ones, was so key to Fennell’s imaginative and prescient. “I think certainly for women of our age group, that’s the pleasure center. For me, Clueless does something to my brain. That yellow plaid, that fluffy pen. When I see those things, I get what I imagine some men feel when they see a football player that they loved when they were growing up. I’ve never not bought a fluffy pen if I see one. It does something to me. It brings me back to that place of, ‘I could be that person.’”
However she additionally needed to have a look at how and why we disregard these ultra-feminine stylings. “I love getting dressed up, I love having stupid nails, I love Britney,” she says. “I’m really interested in what part of our culture diminishes that stuff, that makes that stuff silly. So partly for me, this movie was also about interrogating why that is. Why should it be this gray?”
And within the final ’90s romcom homage, she introduced within the love montage. When Cassie reconnects with fellow med scholar Ryan (Bo Burnham), his self-effacing, goofy appeal breaks down her partitions, and so they fall for one another. Set to the Paris Hilton tune “Stars Are Blind”, the couple dance in a pharmacy, posing with cans of meals, guffawing and customarily trying cute—a scene Mulligan discovered intimidating.
“It’s so easy to cry on camera and that’s the territory I feel comfortable in,” she says. “But laughing and being free and happy, without ego and self-awareness, I think is much harder. That’s why I have such an immense respect for comedians.”
She undoubtedly didn’t need to dance, and tried the tactic of telling Fennell she didn’t think about Cassie would do this.
She confesses, “It was definitely me hiding behind my character saying, ‘Oh, Cassie doesn’t want to do it,’ but I think it was Carey not wanting to do it. A great note from Emerald was, ‘Of course you feel that way, but when you’re in love you look like an idiot from the outside. Everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind. You’re so annoying.’ And Bo, from the beginning, God bless him, was just totally comfortable doing it. He says he wasn’t, but he was immediately picking up the [can of] spam. So much of the levity, and so much of Cassie’s lightness and vulnerability, was just because Bo was so hilarious and charming in that role. I can’t imagine a different actor doing it.”
However there was additionally the issue of singing alongside to Paris Hilton.
“The lyrics are quite complicated to learn,” Mulligan says, with absolute seriousness. “There are bits of it that don’t really make sense. It’s like learning a Radiohead song. It’s not a narrative. They are strange bits in it that are… I mean, it’s a brilliant song, don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But it’s not straightforward to learn, so we did have to print the lyrics out and practice them.”
Fennell and Mulligan at all times excitedly deliberate to ask Hilton to the premiere, after which the pandemic acquired in the best way. “My biggest disappointment of 2020 was not getting to meet Paris Hilton,” Mulligan says. “I hope she likes it.”
As Fennell stated, in actuality, violence from ladies in opposition to males normally doesn’t finish nicely. And when Cassie does lastly try this in opposition to Nina’s rapist, performed by Chris Lowell, the results pop the balloon of the normal Hollywood revenge fantasy. Actuality crashes down on the pop-culture.
“It comes back to that honesty thing, and trying to do justice to telling the truth,” Mulligan says. “It’s just statistically true. Once she’s introduced a weapon, it just isn’t honest [to have her win that]. There’s no way I could out-fight, or ninja my way out of a fight with Chris Lowell. It’s just not going to happen.”
This confrontation was maybe the hardest scene of the shoot. First, the actors watched the stunt staff do it. “I started watching them, and then after two-and-a-half minutes, everyone in the room was just like, ‘Oh, it’s just f—ing horrible. Horrible,’” Mulligan says.
When it was her flip to play the scene, Mulligan discovered she had acquired her place flawed and couldn’t breathe. “But he [Lowell] didn’t know. And I was like, ‘Well, I think I can get out of this.’ Then I realized that 10 seconds later I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe at all and I couldn’t get out of it.”
She gave a pre-arranged hand sign to cease. “It was all very funny. Then I went outside and just burst into tears. I couldn’t explain why it was so upsetting. I’m so of the school of acting of, it’s pretending, it’s playing. But it was one of those moments where, I think watching it happen to somebody else, doing it yourself, understanding how horrendously common that kind of stuff is, it was really way more upsetting than I thought it would be to actually shoot it. That surprised me because I’m usually pretty unmoved by things. So, I think I was particularly aware in that scene of the broader picture and women’s treatment in general. It just felt really, really sad.”
“I remember everyone standing around the monitor in the room with their hands clamped to their faces,” Fennell says of that day. “It feels so horribly real. The thing for me was that it seemed like a plausible possibility, and all the things we’re used to feeling: It’s so unfair, it’s so unjust, and it’s the experience of being in a woman’s body… Inevitably there’s an imbalance.”
Even the crew struggled with the ending. “Emerald was steadfast about it from the beginning. She was absolutely clear,” Mulligan says. “And I’m sure she heard objections. Even when we were working on it, [the crew] were saying, ‘Oh, I just wish [that didn’t happen].’ But that’s just not reality. The film does live in this slightly heightened world, and I think there’s a tendency for people to want that to carry over into the storyline. But the storyline stays in truth. And I’m so proud of Emerald for standing firm on that.”
Mulligan had, pre-shoot, watched The Looking Floor, which particulars the protecting up and denial of rape on school campuses. There’s a scene in that documentary during which a younger girl is requested why she didn’t struggle off a person twice her dimension. The query arises, why would a girl filmmaker perpetuate that delusional and damaging thought, given the selection? Fennell wouldn’t.
But in addition, there’s some resistance to the thought of girls on revenge missions in any respect, Fennell says. “I do think that Cassie is a very particular person, and blokes go on these dangerous missions—revenge missions—all the time and no one minds. But when women do, people are frightened by it.”
“The other day, someone said, ‘Yeah, but is she just crazy at the end? Has she just gone mad; has the grief driven her mad?’” Mulligan provides. “The point is that we have countless films about men who go on crusades on behalf of their loved ones and we never say they’re crazy or that they’ve lost their minds from grief. They’re going around having shootouts and ninja fights in every scene. That is objectively insane. What Cassie’s doing, by comparison, is fairly mild. It’s just an interesting reaction because there’s a huge amount of logic, actually, to what she’s doing.”
Fennell’s daring ending is each the factor that makes the film, and breaks the viewers with its painfully sharp left flip. Courageous and divisive, however obligatory, LuckyChap stood behind it. “They’re just amazing,” Fennell says. “They didn’t know it was going to end the way it did, and when they called me after they first read it, I think we had a very brief discussion about it, but they were completely on board. The whole thing is you couldn’t really change anything about it because otherwise it would then just become the thing that it’s trying so hard not to be, which is a generic revenge thriller.”
LuckyChap co-founder Josey McNamara, lead producer of the movie, says, “It was so assured and specific and completely original… It evaluates our culture and thinking, and asks the question of how are we all a part of this knot we need to unpick.”
With a film that seems so fairly on the floor, Fennell completely factors to that knot, to what lies beneath, what goes unsaid. “I think for me that just feels like so many women’s lives,” Fennell says. “I do think that we’re so practiced at covering things up and making things appear functioning, appealing, happy, putting a brave face on it all… That’s the film really, because it’s [Cassie’s] film. It’s so much about looks being deceiving in every way.”
It’s Alison Brie’s character, Madison, who exemplifies the added toxicity of cover-ups and the ugliness of collusion. She’s the faculty buddy with the seemingly excellent ‘nice girl’ existence: a rock on her finger, a wealthy husband, twin infants and a meticulously-curated Instagram. However she has additionally sickeningly justified her choice to keep up a friendship with the favored, profitable guys who violated Nina, as a result of she says, Nina was drunk, and he or she “slept around” anyway.
Then there’s Connie Britton’s school dean. Her politely blinking, bland protection of these ‘nice boys’ with vivid futures who couldn’t presumably be rapists. All of this, horribly, hauntingly acquainted; all tales we’ve heard documented in so many real-life campus rape instances. When Cassie calmly brings her to her knees, crying tears of regret, it turns into maybe one of the crucial satisfyingly set-up film scenes in current reminiscence.
Being over seven months pregnant and directing your first characteristic in solely 23 days out of the country may need apprehensive a special particular person, however Fennell simply leaned proper into it.
“I was so pregnant and I think that really helped, because in general, I care deeply, pathetically what people think about me. I just chose the worst possible career in every way for that personality trait,” she says. “The idea of people not liking me and thinking I’m difficult, all those things, is just dreadful to me. But luckily, when you’re carting around a massive baby and you’re about to give birth, you don’t have the time to be anxious. I was like a literal ticking time bomb, which I think gave me this weird power for myself.”
She was so thrilled to be dwelling her lifelong dream, she was “like a competition winner” she says. “My only rule for myself was to not pretend I knew something I didn’t. So, I tried to be as clear as possible when I didn’t understand, or I didn’t know something. I would just be like, ‘Sorry what is that?’ Because otherwise you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah yeah,’ and then you’ve agreed to shoot your film in black and white. I thought, the things I want from this film I know inside-out. If I don’t know the name of a particular cable, it’s not the end of the world. I can learn that, that’s fine.”
This will-do perspective is simply who Fennell is, says O’Connor. “Three months after the film she came and did The Crown Season 4. I said, ‘How was it? Was it mad?’ Most filmmakers, when they make their first feature they say, ‘Yeah, it’s incredible and I want to make more, but it is hell and my relationship suffered, and I’ve lost my house.’ All that carnage around their life happens. But she was just like, ‘Oh no, I had the best time of my life, and all the actors were incredible.’”
Mulligan sees Fennell’s inventive genius as a part of a “new generation of women”, along with her personal specific model of actual, twisty, darkish humor. “It does feel in keeping with that kind of work that [Fleabag creator] Phoebe Waller-Bridge has been doing, and Michaela Coel [who wrote and starred in I May Destroy You].” They’re “a wonder group of women,” Mulligan says, creating new—and distinctly distinctive—work that’s giving voice to a whole era of girls.
She factors outs that there’s a hugely-popular, recent viewpoint on ladies’s tales that’s pushing actual change. “That’s what’s so exciting, because these shows have massive audiences and they’ve been huge hits,” she says. “I think it’s just a really good sign to all the people who make the decisions, but actually there’s a massive audience for stories about women, and they don’t have to be perfect, or look perfect, or act perfect… These aren’t the things that are appealing to just women or just feminists or some sort of niche group. Everyone—everyone—loves Fleabag. Barack Obama loves Fleabag for goodness sake.”
Nonetheless, with comparatively little or no business precedent for tales of actual ladies who make actual choices, and who don’t at all times have issues neatly work out, making Promising Younger Lady required the dedication to face by these daring selections all through the method.
“What’s so good about it is that Emerald, in our film, made no compromises,” Mulligan says. “And she doesn’t play down to anyone. She puts her full faith in the audience. Nothing is overly explained. And you get the ending that you get.”
The movie’s ending shouldn’t be the fantasy we count on, nevertheless it might be the fact we’d like. And with it, Fennell crests a courageous new wave of storytelling.
A extra ego-driven filmmaker may now be telling us what to consider their topic. Not Fennell. “I don’t necessarily, in spite of what the film is about, know any answers,” she says sadly. “I don’t have any answers, because it’s so unbelievably complicated and hideous.”