Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

There is a seemingly odd belief with some film enthusiasts that subtlety is the name of the game for a movie to really work and get its messages across to an audience effectively. While I’m up for esoteric movies sometimes when the material calls for it, to paraphrase Garth Marenghi, subtext is for cowards.

Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell’s thrilling debut feature film certainly takes that much needed blunt approach to the rape revenge genre while still providing some things to read between the lines. Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) spends her nights frequenting bars and clubs waiting for someone to take her home. Not for any regular one night stand but confronting Men who try to take advantage of inebriated Women. It’s a personal crusade for Cassie as a childhood friend of hers Nina was raped while the two of them were in medical school. After finding out that Nina’s rapist, Al, is getting married she enacts a plan to make sure Nina is never forgotten by everyone involved in covering up the assault. 

Following Cassie on her self-appointed mission exposes the various maddening ways sexual assault is glossed over and mishandled by authoritative figures who should be ready to listen and help those who come forward. Mulligan spits fire at college presidents, lawyers, and former classmates at their involvement in the crime. Anyone who has seen The Hunting Ground knows how tragically real and prevalent these situations are. 

A great supporting cast of Bo Burnham, Jennifer Coolidge, Clancy Brown, Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Alfred Molina, and Alison Brie help to flesh out the world Cassie is lashing out at. Mulligan is the main attraction here front and center showing equal parts pain, sorrow, guilt, regret, anger, and mercy. A signature role that’ll hopefully lead to more complicated and engaging roles like this one. 

The focal point with most viewers regards the ending which mostly worked for me. Cassie is killed in the process of carving Nina’s name into Al at his Bachelor Party but still gets her revenge by earlier sending damning evidence to the cops is understandably divisive as it ties up matters a bit too neatly with a wink emoji to boot. However it also goes to show that it infuriatingly takes outright murder for any real legal action to occur in sexual assault cases. The fact that Al so easily finds help from a buddy in covering up murder because of Men covering for other Men aka Boys Being Boys is also a pressing topical issue.

Promising Young Woman lays out its argument right to your face along with its lead. The trauma of rape not only affecting survivors but also the people close to them unable to find support in a world that would rather explain away these incidents rather than investigate. Depicting the lengths we’ll go to reconcile when we feel powerless in the face of an apathetic and unjust system.

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