Oscar nominee profile: Original Screenplay ‘Promising Young Woman’ as a comedic thriller and fierce revenge drama

To American audiences, Emerald Fennell is primarily known as an actress in Netflix’s “The Crown,” but with “Promising Young Woman,” her first feature as writer/director, she is rapidly becoming a major force behind the camera as well. An almost indescribable blend of comedic thriller and fierce revenge drama with a distinctly female point-of-view, “Promising Young Woman” has brought Fennell her first Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Fennell’s script will be competing with screenplays for Aaron Sorkin‘s historical drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Lee Isaac Chung‘s family remembrance “Minari,” Will Berson and Shaka King‘s historical biopic “Judas and the Black Messiah” and the drama “Sound of Metal” written by Darius Marder and his brother Abraham Marder.

Fennell’s twisty thriller focuses on Cassandra (Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan), a young woman on her way to great things in medical school when her career path is derailed after her best friend becomes the victim of a sexual assault that ends in tragedy. To turn the tables on other supposed “nice guys,” Cassie regularly plays drunk at bars to lure nice guys into taking her home and putting the moves on her. Only then does she reveal that she is stone-cold sober, and the men wilt with shame. But that’s not enough for Cassie — her path to attain justice for her friend only escalates from there, rocking the audience through unexpected twists and turns that lead to a shocking ending that audiences don’t see coming and one that is thoroughly original in its surprise.

“Original” is probably the key word for “Promising Young Woman,” since it is arguably the most original of the five Original Screenplay nominees. With an opening shot of dad bods signalling that it’s OK to laugh, the film veers from comedy to thriller territory and from charming romance to social commentary, all in the space of two hours. And, despite the deliberate shifts of genre and tone throughout the film, Fennell’s screenplay never loses its focus, displaying a mastery of the craft that is impressive for a first-time writer/director.

Fennell’s script has already been named the year’s Best Original Screenplay by the Writers Guild and BAFTA, as well as winning the Critics Choice and Dorian Awards. Her screenplay has also won the same honor with critics groups in Los Angeles, Seattle, Hollywood and Washington, D.C. In addition, “Promising Young Woman” has been nominated as the year’s best original screenplay for the Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Awards, as well as from critics groups in Chicago and Florida.

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