Revenge is a dish best served bold.
American audiences have been subjected to revenge plots in popular movies + TV shows for years. We’re no strangers to protagonists with personal vendettas avenging deaths in a comic book like fashion made famous by the likes of Quentin Tarantino to Arya Stark on Game of Thrones. Frankly, audiences eat it up and it’s always satisfying when the good guys win. But what happens when the story becomes more fact than fiction? Can it still be evocative and entertaining? If you’re director Emerald Fennell the answer is yes and with a confectionary twist.
Focus Features Promising Young Woman, directed by Killing Eve’s showrunner Emerald Fennell, is a re-imagined femme fatale thriller starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, and Connie Britton.
The film follows Cassie Thomas [Carey Mulligan] and her double life as an uninspired barista living at home with her parents by day and a feminist vigilante by night. Righting the wrongs of her past trauma and best friend’s death, any man who lands himself in Cassie’s web has serious consequences to pay. When Ryan [Bo Burnham], a former classmate, reappears in Cassie’s life she rethinks abandoning her mission—until new details from the past come back to haunt her.
We sat down with Promising Young Woman’s Bo Burnham to discuss the movie in detail:
The Knockturnal: First impressions, I saw Promising Young Woman last night and it’s one hell of a movie. Who approached you with the script and what were your first thoughts upon reading it?
Bo Burnham: My agent actually said, “Do you want to do a chemistry read with Carey Mulligan?”, and I said that sounds horrifying and that will go so horrible but that will be good because I’ll leave a better person or something for having failed [Laughs] So then I read the script and was like Woah. The story is genuinely shocking and I don’t know how anyone could pull it off, then I met [director] Emerald Fennell. Well if anyone could pull it off it’s this person. She is incredibly intelligent but like darkly funny and sweet and emotional and also kind of confectionary. She just is the movie so I was immediately sort of onboard.
The Knockturnal: I love the femme fatale music selections in this movie.
Bo Burnham: It’s done out of love, Emerald genuinely loves these things and has respect for them. When you see movies where like pop music is placed in ironically by men who have no respect for the music. She has a deep respect for this stuff, as she should. It’s so Emerald.
The Knockturnal: One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Ryan + Cassie [Carey Mulligan] take their first pharmacy trip together as a couple and start singing down the aisles to Paris Hilton’s Stars Are Blind.
Bo Burnham: It’s so funny people keep saying that to Carey and I. That was maybe the hardest thing for me to shoot. It was so embarrassing, but it should be because early stages of love are so embarrassing. You’re so punch drunk off of each other’s company so that was good. It was good to be able to do it with her and humiliate ourselves simultaneously.
The Knockturnal: There’s a lot of great talent in addition to yourself on this film, Carey Mulligan, Molly Shannon, Alison Brie to name a few. Who did you get to work with on a daily basis and who shot on separate days?
Bo Burnham: Me and Carrie for most of it and then I had a scene with [Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge] that was incredible. It was mostly separate and that’s the thing you’re kind of compartmentalized which is fun. My character, Ryan, is not aware of what’s going on in the film. It’s important for me to keep the blinders on and not think about what they just shot or what they were going to shoot afterwards.
The Knockturnal: We’re dealing with themes of power abuse and redemption. The characters in this film are so complex. Are there redeeming qualities to these people?
Bo Burnham: That’s probably the tragedy of it – who’s redeeming them? I would say more than redeeming it’s complicated. I think Emerald does a beautiful job of showing how complicated these issues are. I think it encourages and opens conversation which is important. I don’t think the movie is wagging it’s finger at you trying to tell you something.
The Knockturnal: We’re pointing a mirror back to ourselves in away. This isn’t a Kill Bill type revenge story. We know plenty of men and women like this.
Bo Burnham: It’s also entertaining. This isn’t just about an issue that you should sit through and learn something, it’s this exciting story that does play with fire and raises a lot of issues and questions. I feel more like an audience member.
The Knockturnal: Well we’re happy to have you as an audience member and onscreen as well.
Bo Burnham: Thank you!
Promising Young Woman opens in theaters April 17th 2020.