Released: 1st January
Seen: 8th January
“Boys will be boys”
“It’s a ‘he said she said’ situation”
“It’s a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action”
“If you really want to know the truth you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you did to this guy.”
Let’s be blunt, when women come forward with allegations about being assaulted chances are good she’s going to hear something like one of the above quotes. We have a serious problem when it comes to believing women who make allegations of sexual assault or harassment… that problem being that we don’t. Hell, we’re so bad at it that we might be dumb enough to hear the phrase “Devils Triangle” and believe the rapist that it’s a drinking game when anyone who has a cursory knowledge of Google knows it’s a threesome with two men… in a culture like this, a film like Promising Young Woman isn’t just inevitable, it’s cathartic.
Promising Young Woman follows Cassandra (Carey Mulligan), a humble coffee shop worker who still lives at home with her parents at 30 and who dropped out of medical school. She lives a very simple life, she goes to work every day and on weekends she goes to the club. Of course, at the club, she doesn’t drink but she pretends to be drunk just waiting for a man to try something so she can teach him the error of his ways. After doing this for a while, Cassandra finally decides to go for revenge against those who she blames for a horrible tragedy in her past… and by the time she’s done, everyone will know not to ignore a woman again.
The best comparison I can come up with for Promising Young Woman is if the second half of I Spit On Your Grave had a massive sugar high, it’s one hell of a ride that knows just how far to push the boundaries without ever going over. For a film that is, effectively, the ‘revenge’ part of a rape-revenge film it’s brilliantly tasteful in never showing the actual rape (the closest we get is hearing a video someone took of the event and even that mostly sounds like a frat party). This lets the film play with the actual problem, by removing the most scandalous elements of the genre it lets the film focus instead on the reality of sexual assault.
Every scene in Promising Young Woman is gloriously effective, from scenes of Cassandra going home with men who believe she’s drunk to scenes of her ultimate revenge plan. There’s also a pretty adorable romance subplot that begins when Pediatric Surgeon Ryan (Bo Burnham) comes to the coffee shop. Every scene between them feels almost like a respite from the more intense revenge sequences and includes the best use of a Paris Hilton song in the history of cinema (a bold statement, I know).
What genuinely impresses me about Promising Young Woman is how much it trusts the audience. It doesn’t need to show the rape or the revenge, it trusts the audience to form an image in their mind of just what Cassandra may have done to the various people who she’s alone with and trusts the audience to go along with what’s happening during the bigger revenge moments, which are some of the darkest moments in the film and also some of its best.
The actual best part of Promising Young Woman is just Carey Mulligan’s entire existence, this is the kind of performance that defines a career. She’s funny, snarky, playful, evil and powerful all at the same time. Just watching her eyes is its own movie, the little glances and flickering between fake drunk and “oh you’re so dead” is art. She’s so good that even the murderers’ row of scene stealers (Laverne Cox, Jennifer Coolidge, Adam Brody, Connie Britton and Molly Shannon, just to name some of the biggest ones) can’t even borrow a scene because it’s all Carey’s and she’s not letting go.
Promising Young Woman is the kind of movie that I’ve been waiting for, something bold and fresh with a brilliant cast and some of the wittiest dialogue I’ve heard in a while. Look out for Emerald Fennell’s work in future because this is what she pulled out for her first time as a director so I can’t wait to see what she does for an encore.
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