Promising Young Woman is a hard film to discuss. It’s one of those films that is going to have you debating after you see it. You’ll be thinking about it for a long time. It’s a gut punch of a film, and it’s probably going to cause arguments in your house and friend group. That’s one of the reasons you need to see it.
Before we go any further, watch the trailer below! It’s important that you do. You can’t get a sense of what this is from just a description, and there are too many spoilers. Plus, you really need the impact of the first part of the trailer before you know anything at all.
Seen it? Good. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is out on the prowl to take down men who take advantage of drunk women. Yes, this film tackles sexual assault, and it does it in a way that is going to have people howling in the theater (they certainly were in my screening), and laughing, believe it or not.
Discussions I’ve heard and been part of about this film have been centered around the #MeToo movement, and believing women. I can almost feel the anger on both sides of the issue as I type this. First, let’s take that out of it. Promising Young Woman is a fantastic, witty, heartbreaking, twisty and powerful revenge thriller. For that alone, it should be seen.
However, you can’t take the #MeToo out of it, and you shouldn’t. That just needed to be addressed first. So does the tour de force performance from Mulligan. The deftness with which she handles what grief and guilt have done to Cassie’s life is masterful. She’s never buried in it.
Cassie does what many of us are told to do; she takes her trauma and uses it for good. She also destroys her own life in the process. Mulligan combines that with incredible comic timing and hope, and has you willing her to take all of these predators down.
Yes, despite the subject matter, this film is an absolute thrill ride. So many films that have touched this subject are just heartbreaking, and that is fine. Some are just “woman out for revenge” or “guy getting revenge for the woman who was assaulted.” We’ve seen that a lot and there is a place for it.
Promising Young Woman, however, is an entertaining film about an awful subject, and it’s, dare I say, fun. No, that word doesn’t sound right, but… well, it is.
You just want to see these men get what’s coming. You want Cassie to mess with their heads. You want to see her win. You feel her need to punish the men who were never punished because they (and you’ve heard this in the news so many times) had such a promising career and life ahead of them, forgetting that the young women they hurt were promising as well.
Well, boys will be boys is said of their drunkenness, but she was asking for it is said of hers. She wants them to feel at least part of the fear and remorse that they deserve to feel.
You also want to see her take down the women who didn’t believe, or who participated in spreading that disbelief. You want to see her destroy the friends who didn’t defend her. Alison Brie gives a spot on performance as one of these women.
What you also see is how stuck Cassie is in time. You see it in the decoration in her parents’ home, the hair tie that holds her journal together, her clothing, her choice to leave school and work in a coffee shop (Laverne Cox has a small role here, and she’s fantastic). You see it in her face when a man she likes tries to ask her up to his apartment early on.
You see what could have been if someone had just listened to a girl when she says no, or thought, hey, she can’t consent right now. You see what’s been lost. You also see that sexual assault doesn’t just affect the victim. The perpetrators get to go on with their lives with help from others. The victims have to pull themselves up, often alone, and everyone around them is affected.
Ferrell’s visual style is full of symbolism, and candy-colored scenery, and it’s the perfect backdrop for a film that will have you whooping when each man is taken down, but looks almost sinister when you realize the contrast to what is really happening. It’s a difficult thing to balance a popcorn thriller with comedy, pathos and a gut punch of a subject matter, but this film does it.
The ending of Promising Young Woman is a rough one. I wish I could talk about it, because you’ll certainly be debating it, but I think it perfectly suits the narrative. It asks what you can come back from, and what you can’t, and more than that would be a spoiler. Go ahead and watch that trailer again.
Promising Young Woman Review Score: 9.5/10
Focus Features will release Promising Young Woman in theaters on December 25, 2020. The film also stars Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Adam Brody, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Max Greenfield, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell, Sam Richardson, Molly Shannon, and Clancy Brown.