Rating 5/5 – This is a review about Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman, and trigger warning because I’m going to talk frankly about rape/sexual assault, mental health, and how this society treats rape victims. Anyone who thinks I should include or make mention of male rape, please step off. It happens, it’s wrong but the level of trauma this society puts on women as victims is what this film is about. Make your own movie and I’ll review that. This review is about Promising Young Woman.
Normally I go into the overall reasons for the ratings I gave in the first paragraph, but this movie needs a little more unpacking. Emerald Fennell made her first movie with huge brass balls and obviously isn’t going to bother to apologize for it. Good for her. Before this movie, she was a showrunner on the fantastic Killing Eve. Promising Young Woman is provocative, far more insightful than it had to be, and has an ending that will cause a lot of debates. (We’ll get to that.) Carey Mulligan carried the entire weight of Promising Young Woman with excellent performance. The supporting cast is also fantastic. The writing is sharp, the dark humor lands where it’s supposed to and the point (or theme) is made very loudly. This is a must-see movie, period.
Promising Young Woman – “I thought it was funny.” (SPOILERS)
“I don’t know how we could have all watch it and. . .”
“. . .we thought it was funny.”
Promising Young Woman starts with a woman pretending to be drunk in order to trap men into facing their own self-delusions. Many of them think of themselves as good people only to be embarrassed when confronted. This isn’t a murder revenge movie, it’s more of a vigilante justice movie. But the protagonist does not just go after men, there are women she’s after too. The Dean of Students at a college. And one of her fellow students, a woman named Madison. Madison is the one who speaks the above line. “we thought it was funny.” She says the line after a particularly fitting piece of fitting revenge
Community’s Alumni Allison Brie plays Madison, who just had twins and went to college with Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) and the friend who goes victimized. The timeline of this movie is seven years after the incident when something happened to Cassandra’s best friend. It is made clear that when this happened the victim, Nina, had come to Madison but younger Madison dismissed Nina saying “if you get drunk and sleep around are you surprised when it happens and you don’t remember.” Only Madison had a video on her phone because the men who did it made a video of the incident and passed it around to the entire class. And everything about this scene makes Nina’s victimization that much more horrible.
Why? Because Nina was victimized by the attack. Then victimized when her fellow female students and authorities and the female dean judged her and looked out for the attacker. And the students had the video throughout and obviously public trail but no one even thought to bring it to the police. The aftermath destroyed Nina and Cassandra had to watch that happen. I’d be angry too.
Promising Young Woman – Cassandra Complex
The spoiler I just did for Promising Young Woman will not in any way hurt the movie for you. Everything said is made clear as the movie opens and moves forward. You can see watching her childhood friend be eaten alive after the incident also destroyed Cassandra. Cassandra also feels guilty for not being there to stop Nina from going with her attacker and getting her home. So that guilt leads her to drop out of med-school with Nina and watch her deteriorate. Cassandra had deteriorated too. Her life has stalled, she works at a job beneath her abilities and she’s driven to find some catharsis about what happened to Nina.
Promising Young Woman – Tones and Endings
The screener reviewers for Promising Young Woman tended to complain about the tone and the ending. (Don’t worry, no spoilers here.) This is not about a protagonist who was victimized, it’s about a woman who was damaged watching her friend get victimized and destroyed by that victimization. Guilt, frustration, loss are part of Cassandra’s mental break. As I said before, this film is just as much about mental health then it is about sexual assault. The tone seems to change because people living with mental health and trauma change tones all the time. We’re seeing the story from Cassandra’s point of view, so of course, the tone changes. There’s a point where she questions her mission, then something happens and the tone completely changes. That’s the way it should be and Emerald Fennell did an excellent job conveying that.
Promising Young Woman is a well crafted dark comedy with a lot to say in a nearly two-hour package. I was actually surprised it was two hours long as it felt like a very short film. There isn’t any gratuitous nudity and not actual scenes of sexual assault. However, as the full scope of what happened seven years ago comes out through Cassandra’s journey in the feel it just as strong as if you were passing by the building and heard Nina screaming. Emerald Fennell took big risks in how she told this story and Carey Mulligen did such a fantastic job bringing Cassandra to life. Promising Young Woman is a big movie with big messages the demands attention. This was one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.