Promising Young Woman writer-director Emerald Fennell says the Carey Mulligan revenge thriller was designed to feel like a first date gone awry.
The film’s confectionary visuals lure us into a twisting, troubling story we won’t spoil here. Fennell always planned a popcorn movie that would provoke audiences and leave lingering questions behind.
“I wanted it to feel like the best first date you’ve ever been on, like the person that’s just too good to be true and sexy and funny and engaging,” Fennell told the MovieMaker Interviews after the film’s Sundance Film Festival premiere.
“And then you get back to their apartment and you’re like… ‘There’s something not right about this apartment.’ And the door’s locked behind you and it’s too fucking late. That’s what I kind of wanted for the audience.”
Nothing has turned out as expected for Promising Young Woman.
The film, originally scheduled for April 17, was delayed for months by COVID-19 and finally arrived in theaters on Christmas Day, it time to qualify for awards season. It will be available to rent online on Jan. 15.
Fennell says she set out to make the film seem “soft and approachable” despite very dark subject matter.
“Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful, because life is a horrendous, beautiful nightmare, isn’t it?” Fennell says. “I wanted it to be fun and a popcorn movie that also turns the thumbscrews on every single person watching it. And I just want them to like it. I want it to be kind of a horrible, beautiful experience. Carey’s performance is the absolute linchpin of that because it contains everything that the film is.”
Fennell, who also stars in The Crown as Camilla Shand, Prince Charles’ (barely) secret lover, also talks on the podcast about how she and Mulligan first met as actors. And they discuss the expectations of the film, and how it repeatedly subverts them.
Here are some highlights of the episode, with timestamps:
2:15: Why Emerald Fennell considered making three different trailers for Promising Young Woman.
3:20: Why Promising Young Woman seems “soft and approachable.”
5:05: Carey Mulligan explains how she and Fennell met.
9:50: Carey Mulligan on her career choices: “In the last 10 years I haven’t done anything unless I couldn’t bear the idea of someone else doing it.”
13:30: Carey Mulligan explains why female-directed films tend to have built-in quality control: “I always know when I’m getting a script that’s being directed by a woman that it’s something to get excited about because you can guarantee they’ve had to work eight times harder to get to the point where they’ve got a script that’s going out to actors.”
16:20: Mulligan’s delight at the kinds of questions she isn’t asked about Promising Young Woman.
Promising Young Woman, directed by Emerald Fennell and starring Carey Mulligan, is in theaters on Christmas Day. This story was originally published on Jan. 27, 2020, and has been updated.