Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

"I AM AWAKE IN THE PLACE WHERE WOMEN DIE." -- Jenny Holzer

been thinking about what to write about this one for the past couple of weeks. i can see why some hate it and why some love it, and after hours of reflection i've come to the earth-shattering conclusion that... it is just okay!

the title "promising young woman" itself is a reference to how the media called rapist brock turner a "promising young man." many know brock turner, but fewer know chanel miller, the woman who spoke out about him (and even wrote a memoir aptly titled Know My Name). similarly, our vengeful protagonist cassie is determined to let the world remember her best friend nina's name. the relationship between name and identity is a major theme of emerald fennell's debut feature, as well as a major issue for survivors. example: the women who spoke out about harvey weinstein are now forever linked to his name, which is part of why they were so hesitant to speak out in the first place (according to She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, an eye-opening book by the NYT journalists who broke the initial weinstein story about how they did it).

all of this real world information makes up the atmosphere of Promising Young Woman, lurking grimly and malevolently above our heroine's head. it also informs fennell's writing and direction, as scenes involving violence against women are shot with discretion and empathy -- rape-revenge exploitation flicks that are directed by and for men can tend to have the camera linger and luxuriate in the women's pain. this is a conscious choice. here, fennell is careful to either cut away from abuse, or to force you to look at it, accept it, understand in the marrow of your bones that this is the evil that men do to women.

there are some big, bold choices made here that i may not completely agree with, though can respect. at times the dialogue can be canned, preachy, reminiscent of a half-baked feminist-revenge short i and my gal pals might've made in college, but so what? there are worse crimes. much worse crimes. and though the way cassie monologues may border on predictable, she is nevertheless speaking necessary truth to power. in fact, the intersection of truth and fantasy is deeply embedded in the film's most controversial scenes, culminating in both catharsis and devastation.

i've read great reviews from women that range from critical to positive, and they all reckon with the most effective ways in which to make art from cultural and personal trauma. this is a question with no definitive answer. until then, we just gotta keep pressuring studio to take risks on mid-budget (preferably female-helmed) dark comedies that actually have shit to say, instead of playing it "safe" with algorithmic billion dollar franchises. there is one thing we can all agree on, though: casting 6'5" bo burnham as the lead love interest is long overdue and unequivocally genius.

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