Promising Young Woman – Review

Promising Young Woman“I’m a nice guy.”

“I thought you were into it.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

Cassie has heard every excuse in the book. And she’s tired of it. Emerald Fennell’s film opens with Cassie (Carey Mulligan) being helped home by self-declared “nice guy” Jerry as she appears to be too drunk to stand. But guess what … That doesn’t stop Jerry (Adam Brody) helping himself to some physical compensation for seeing her home.

And that’s where the fun starts.

Fennell’s film simply bursts on the screen with bubblegum pinks and neon blues; twinkling lavenders and lurid yellows. It’s punctuated by a soundtrack that includes everything from It’s Raining Men to Something Wonderful from The King and I; from Paris Hilton’s Stars Are Bling to a slick strings arrangement of Britney’s Toxic.

It puts its sexual politics front and centre. This is the post #MeToo era – but the decades of damage, abuse and shame are still very much prevalent.

This is not a film that sets out to “shame men” or in any way imply that all men are assholes. Because the women in this film are just as bad. It’s actually quite shocking to hear “Well when you sleep with everyone, you can’t suddenly cry rape one night” or “She was drunk – she was probably ashamed” come out of a woman’s mouth.

What makes Promising Young Woman even more interesting is that the classic rape-revenge trope doesn’t really apply here. Cassie was never a victim. But, as a woman, there’s every chance she could be. As one male character points out – a rape accusation is “every man’s worst nightmare,” to which she replies “Can you guess what every woman’s worst nightmare is?”

This is a film that highlights the legacy of shame and silence surrounding rape victimhood. It’s not just the assault itself – it’s the fear of not being believed and the stigma of reactions such as questioning what clothing you wore or how sober you were. It speaks, in particular, to the wave of on-campus assaults at American universities that were simply swept under the rug with a focus on preserving the male’s career and future prospects.

Promising Young WomanCarey Mulligan is simply electric in the lead role. All of her costuming and hair styling suggests innocence lost, with her harsh, quick smiles and layers of eye liner nothing more than performative. She gives a really layered performance as Cassie – we see all her sharp edges and vulnerabilities almost all at once. She’s guarded yet determined; damaged yet dangerous.

Running alongside the revenge plotline, Cassie has a will they / won’t they romance with her former college classmate, Ryan (Bo Burnham). He seems to be the antithesis of the men she is wreaking revenge on. He seems to care and wants to take their relationship at a pace that is both respectful and loving.

There are also some funny scenes with Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown as Cassie’s parents. The tension is rippling them off them as they strive to encourage their daughter to move out, get a better job and start enjoying a love life.

Promising Young Woman is both stylish and interesting. It’s provocative and shocking without ever making the viewer lose empathy for Cassie. Without giving too much away, the film often flips expectations (sometimes to your delight, sometimes to your disappointment when a character lets you down) and it always feels like writer / director Emerald Fennell is one step ahead of the viewers. It also boasts a strong supporting cast, including Laverne Cox, Alison Brie, Alfred Molina, Molly Shannon and Connie Britton.

This is a film that will, hopefully, challenge a lot of the language we use surrounding rape culture and sexual abuse. It’s not preachy – but it lays its core message out at the start and doesn’t ever waver from that. It’s a fantastically pulpy, sharp, shocking and emotive piece of cinema. I didn’t want it to end.

Promising Young Woman doesn’t have a UK release date at the time of print.

Mary Munoz
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