This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
jaywill’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
!!! MAJOR SPOILERS, NOT JUST LIGHT ONES !!!
More films need to kill their protagonists. It’s a rarely executed device that makes for a jarring conclusion, one that most often doesn’t feel in the realm of possibilities from the viewer’s seat, accustomed to the accessible happy ending. For me, it was used fittingly here, and I’ve read wildly differing reactions towards the ending so I know I’m not the only one. Contextually, the film held a Shakespearean allure its entire runtime. Less one montage, every minute was filled with suffering, and naturally it should end in death. Cassie wasn’t finding closure (if such a thing exists) no matter how the bachelor party played out, so why not make it a tragedy. I don’t interpret it as the saviour-ism some laud it (or loathe it) for, but just another fucked up injustice…a tragedy.
The texts beyond the grave/I got the last laugh tropey bullshit is exactly the tonal problem I had throughout the movie though! It was little things like this that swung the film into black comedy range for me, and as a whole I just can’t grasp what voice the movie is speaking from. Is it truly made for the victims? I would argue not. Is it a feminist anthem? Maybe. Is it a PSA on consent, or rather one simply espousing decent sympathetic living? I found it too ambiguous to place succinctly in any of category, but the almost satirical in-your-face “do people actually think like that?” moments make me believe the latter was the intended effect.
With all that said, I’m not hating on the social messaging, I just wish it was clearer. Promising Young Woman falters in this way for me because I know what I wanted, and a consistent voice is part of it. Specifically, a constant perspective shift to remind me it is for Nina. Additionally, I want nuance from the supporting characters. I don’t want Madison’s demeanor changing four times in a conversation, she can have a change of heart or not, but the reluctant ally doesn’t fly. I don’t want an over-the-top sobbing apology from Alfred Molina’s character (forgive me on the name), I need to see that remorse and despair on his face. Ryan’s concluding motivations need to lie in atonement or ignorance, not some self-serving interest to progress his stately career. What else? The end should have a symbol of hope, not a cheesy winky face. Finally, we need more insight into Cassie. Her motivations are clear, but the discourse this movie has around her fate and formerly her mental condition before the bachelor party are exactly what it needed to avoid in my opinion. Again, I’m easy on the intention, whether she’s extremely calculated at that point, blinded by revenge, etc., but to leave it inconclusive is to undermine its purpose.
If it’s not too late to close with some positives, the film was exciting from a technical standpoint. The production design was beautiful, somehow balancing pastels with neons without issue. The score was on point. I mentioned a few times how it could use a Britney joint, but saving a strings-heavy rendition of Toxic for her penultimate scene was monumental. For my gripes with the screenplay, the humour was never in doubt. I was laughing in fits at some of the off-handed comments these characters made to each other. Overall, Promising Young Woman was a well-made, enjoyable film, but the lack of a consistent affecting narrative left something to be desired.