Promising Young Woman Might Make You Rethink Who’s a “Nice Guy”
Is this the first time a revenge film has been nominated for Best Picture? I believe the answer is yes, and if I’m right, deservingly so.
I have watched tons of revenge films in my time. From Wes Craven’s classic rape-revenge film Last House on The Left to I Spit on Your Grave to 2017’s aptly named film Revenge, most revenge films are hard to watch. When the lead is a woman, the film usually consists of a group of horrible men doing horrible things to the woman and leaving her for dead, her seeking revenge, your mileage may vary. Over time the genre has become stale and will usually pump out a mediocre film every five years or so.
Now comes Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan. The film follows Cassandra, or Cassie, a thirty-year-old woman who spends her days working a dead-end job at a coffee shop. When night descends, that’s when Cassie comes alive. Pretending to be drunk at nightclubs, she waits to be taken home by a “nice guy”. We see a couple of these “nice guys” take her to their homes, where they subsequently try to have sex with her even though she is clearly not sober enough to consent. After letting them believe she is drunk for a good amount of time, she makes her move, which understandably scares the shit out of them.
You come to realize that Cassie’s life is stuck in one particular moment. She is working a dead-end job with no aspirations, after having dropped out of med school, and her parents are stuck in time by her unwillingness to move on. Even the house that they live in seems stuck in a different time. As the story unravels you come to understand why Cassie is stuck and why she has never moved on from this tragedy in her past. As an audience member, you want Cassie to find catharsis through her revenge because you also want her to be able to move on with her life.
When Ryan (Bo Burnham) comes enters the picture, he gives us our first hope that Cassie may be able to move on with her life, without getting that revenge she so desperately wants. You’ll definitely find yourself yelling at Ryan “please don’t be a creep.” You want Cassie to be happy.
Promising Young Woman’s aesthetics really won me over. Most revenge films are dark and gritty to match their stories. This film juxtaposes its dark story with bubblegum bright colors and a flashy pop playlist. A slowed-down version of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ blasts through the speakers as we see Cassie on the prowl. Everything about the film feels smooth and right and I would say that is thanks to the masterful direction of Emerald Fennell. This is probably the best role I have ever seen Carey Mulligan in. Mulligan shines and is able to embody Cassie, which is no easy task. Cassie is traumatized, revenge-seeking, vulnerable, and yet lovable at the same time… a seemingly impossible role to play, and yet Carey Mulligan does it with ease.
I can’t tell you if you will like Promising Young Woman or not, because although it is not bloody or gory… it is dark. This is a film about consent, trauma, and how our society makes victims out of the criminals and criminals out of the victims. I can’t tell you if you’ll this movie because you won’t even know if you like it until the final ten minutes. I will tell you that although your heart will desperately want one end, as I did, the filmmaker in me knew that the conclusion given was the only one that made sense and would make you think for days later.
At this point, there will be minor spoilers for the film, and I do think it’s best to go in as blind as possible… so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it.
You find out that Cassie’s revenge-seeking and trauma are all based on an event that happened when she and her friend Nina were in college. Nina was raped by someone at a party and after being victim-shamed, you are led to believe that Nina committed suicide. Cassie’s shame for not being there to stop the rape or Nina’s death destroyed her. The way Nina was treated after the rape and seemingly forgotten about stopped Cassie in her tracks. Usually, revenge films are about the victim taking revenge out on the perpetrators, but with this film, the victim is not there to take their revenge. so Cassie does it for her. I found that to be a very interesting dynamic to the film and it helps you sympathize more with the protagonist. Instead of asking, “what would I do if that happened to me”, you are asking yourself “what would I do if that happened to my best friend?”.
I don’t think Promising Young Woman will win Best Picture, and having only seen four out of the eight nominees I can’t say it should, but Promising Young Woman is my favorite of the eight so far. I loved Promising Young Woman and I feel that this film should be required viewing for every young boy. Actions have consequences…even when you have “forgotten” about those actions.
You can rent Promising Young Woman digitally today on all platforms or from your local video rental store.