Humorous and witty - will make you laugh while afraid
Malignant handling of an important theme - glorification of inconsequential efforts
Indulgent filmmaking that interrupts pacing
Destruction of a strong setup
Promising Young Woman | Trigger warnings: Rape, self-harm
It’s a cold night, my tummy’s bulging from the killer buffet I’ve just had, and I’m watching bodies gyrate, groin to butt, bathed in glorifying strobe lights of a nightclub (I’m in a movie theatre, not a strip club). I watch as they dance with fervour, fuelled by the promise of an apocalyptic party. Except, unlike the immensely attractive women we’ve gotten used to in scenes of the like, this one is littered with faces you wouldn’t want to look at even with the lights off — let alone the morning after. This is what happens in the real world, on nights that turn apocalyptic for too many promising young women.
We’re looking at real men, hot or not, some with bellies spilling out of their tailored shirts, some charming and poised, some just… normal. Some are looking for one woman drunk enough to take home and deliver an apocalypse to, then never hear of again. The trauma of date rape is an apocalypse that many women relive daily, as depicted in Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. This is the hyper-realistic the opening for the film, the protagonist of which had lost her best friend to suicide after a horrifying date rape.
The solid visual opening left me reeling with excitement. This was going to be the comeback film for women! The story of a heroine who could look an apocalypse dead in the eye and say “fuck off“. It was going to empower everyday women to fight for their right to parrrrrrrty. Okay, maybe I had high expectations. But despite its strong start, the movie ended to be the complete opposite, and dangerously so.
Let’s get this stuff out of the way – The cast was good. The lines were good. The premise was interesting.
Promising Young Woman the vengeance-driven journey of Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) who spends her days working at a coffee shop, and her nights at clubs, feigning drunkedness to lure men into taking her home. When these men try to take advantage of her, she turns the tables on them, revealing her sobriety and scaring them proper. It’s brilliant, so fresh, and the best part? It’s black comedy.
As a woman, I can attest that it’s completely normal that many of us run violent scenarios in our heads. I see it as a way of keeping myself prepared for moments that I hope will never happen to me. How to pop the eyeballs of a rapist out. How to escape from the binding clutches of an ill-intentioned bear hug. How to incapacitate a rapist by targeting vulnerable areas — no, not just the groin, because they might see that one coming.
Promising Young Women promises its viewers the mental resilience to stick by these manoeuvres, which may sometimes even be unnecessary. It airs the dirty laundry of guilty men who put up ridiculous when there are sexual accusations levelled against them.
The characters in Promising Young Woman were predictable, but it worked.
More often than not, it’s stereotypical situations and systemic injustices that contribute to the furthering of sexual harassment. Promising Young Woman depicts the effects of this having taken place in a school, where the white, male rapist walks away scot-free, and years later, is successful and soon to be married. Classic. Meanwhile, the victim, Cassie’s best friend, Nina, is dead to suicide.
Mulligan’s character is cute and witty, then sardonic and completely off her rockers in a tumblr-esque way. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a resolute woman who’s avenging her best friend in unconventional ways. As the film progresses, you watch her inch closer to the brink of insanity while delivering revenge upon those who had helped harm Nina, including a school dean. Carey Mulligan does an excellent job at portraying this range, and is supported by an excellent supporting cast found in Laverne Cox, Jennifer Audrey Coolidge, Clancy Brown, and Bo Burnham, who plays the protagonist’s love interest.
We also see Alison Brie shine as bright as ever in her role as a schoolmate, a woman, who had witnessed the rape of Cassie’s best friend, which had been recorded on video. And yet, Brie’s character had let it pass. Undoubtedly, we also witness Cassie teaching her a lesson.
The film also tries to say “hey, we’re not saying all men are bad men”. We see this in a repentant lawyer pained by the guilt of having defended many men in sexual harassment trials. He is given the opportunity to make amends by contributing to Cassie’s grand final plan.
As it teeters towards its third act, Promising Young Woman’s cracks and plot-plaguing self-romanticisation begin to blare. After the establishment of the premise, it takes an indulgent approach in drawing towards predictable moments. Its humorous lines are perhaps the only thing that keep it afloat for a while, as it draws toward its epic finale that takes every bit of empowerment the film has built and smashes it to bits. It’s offensive, really.
The story was abominable. I’m going to ruin the ending for you because that’s how dangerous it is.
The plot progresses and there’s only one thing left for Cassie to do. To avenge the death of her best friend by killing Nina’s rapist himself, a man called Al Monroe. Al is going to have a bachelor party for his upcoming wedding, and Cassie is going to infiltrate it. She comes up with a perfect plan. She will enter as a stripper and use her womanly charms to eventually get to Al and wipe him off the face of the earth.
It’s poetic! But as every movie with a plan goes, things screw up. Though, in this one, the character doesn’t actually find a solution.
Cassie snaps on her gloves and dons a smexy nurse outfit, hair streaked with Harley Quinn-esque colours that amplify her crazy. She is servin’ some femme fatale goodness as she rings the bell, and pours poisoned alcohol into the mouths of Al’s friends, who lap it up like dogs.
She brings a hesitant Al upstairs and uses pink poofy handcuffs to bind him to the bedframe while revealing her grand plan, making him want to atone for his sins. She carves the name of her best friend onto his skin because you just can’t take the Tumblr outta the girl. It’s almost like she’ll get him, but then Al escapes from his handcuffs and smothers her. And all too soon, the moment becomes a painful, cliche headline of “sex worker dies at ____”.
Please at least tell us this guy trips on his way down the stairs and dies a horribly gruesome death?
No, instead, the police arrive on him at his wedding the next day. He receives some corny “scheduled” messages from Cassie that read right out of a Sophie Kinsella book. He is arrested for Cassie’s murder. The movie ends.
What the fuck??? It remains to be seen what the grand arrest of Al achieved for the plot beyond granting the relief of the movie’s conclusion. The cost of justice is not martyrdom. The impact of Cassie’s work as a hero of the night was… worthless, neither had she imparted any kind of a legacy upon other women. There’s another tremendous missed opportunity in the film: Cassie had mentioned to a frightened perverted man that there were other women in town just like her, alluding to a team of female vigilantes. As it turns out, she had said it just to scare him, and her magic was taken with her to the grave.
For victims of sexual abuse and harassment, this movie is a beacon of hope and empowerment, until it comes crashing down and sends a shocking message about just how much it will take just to achieve non-justice. Like there isn’t already enough complication surrounding the process of even getting sexual harassment reported. For younger women, this is an overly romanticised pile of trash that sends the wrong messages about what it means to be a strong woman. No, being strong will not and SHOULD NOT have to cost you your life.
This is the movie that epitomises the need for better, healthier representation for women in film. The audience deserve better, female viewers deserve better, and promising young women certainly deserve better.