“Promising Young Woman” calls attention to the destructive nature of toxic masculinity and the absolute necessity of holding people accountable for their actions and brings it in such a way that is both shocking and wickedly funny. In a day and age where money and power can swipe the slate clean for the selected privilege, Emerald Fennell’s black comedy takes a bold approach to its storytelling by not holding anything back by startling its audience in unexpected ways that will also have its audience ponder about how much of today’s world is still male dominated society.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) lives up to the title as a promising young woman who walked away from a career as a medical professional after an incident at school. It was an incident that psychologically scarred her, but it also defined her destiny. Now living with her parents while also unhappily working at an independent coffee shop, Cassie appears to be engaging in self-destructive behavior by frequenting bars where men take advantage of her inebriation. But she is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and strategically makes her plan of attack of vengeance through her cunning and wit. Though she is slowly getting closer to achieving her goal, an unexpected encounter gives her an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. And, she will do it by any means necessary.
“Promising Young Woman” may start off like a straight-forward film about its female lead seeking vengeance towards those who put her on this path. Cassie keeps her vendetta a secret from others because she knows full well that those who participated in the incident have either put the tragedy behind them or they have completely forgotten about it. It’s often how things go nowadays. So she targets them knowing their weaknesses, and then, once she ensnares them in her trap, she checks them off in her own little book as though she is marking off yet another victory. There are pages and pages of ticks indicating that she has made this her mission. And these men aren’t exactly the image of clean and cut as they see themselves as. No, they are exactly the sleazy kind of people who continue to look for an easy score, which makes them deserve what’s coming to them.
But Fennell doesn’t want to make this yet another generic woman with vengeance piece. It would be way to easy to present a story in a such a way where Cassie goes about her quest making one check in her book night after night. So the director adds layers to Cassie to give more depth. She gives her a chance to have the character be vulnerable and let down her guard. It’s not a sign of weakness but something that shows her that she can be human. And that comes to the forefront then Ryan (Bo Burnham), another man from her past enters her life. Suddenly, her walls start to break down, and she shows signs of the once bright and bubbly person her parents pictured her as.
Cassie doesn’t expect this to happen to her, especially when she is moving ahead with her plans. While it her relationship with Ryan may be a bit of a distraction for her, she is still determined to see her mission through to the end. For her, she wants to leave the kind of impression that will hurt her victims in such a way that they will never be able to forget what she did to them or what happened during that incident that spurred her to do this.
It’s not a thankful job nor is it an honorable one, but it is something that Cassie has to do in order to bring that sense of closure that was robbed of her by a broken justice system that allows privileged men to move on with their lives and the victims to suffer in agony and shame. So, it’s no wonder that some will find themselves cheering for Cassie as she continues to check off her book, and do it in questionable ways, but one that is devilishly entertaining for the audience and cathartic for the character.
Making her directorial debut, there is nothing simple or clean about Fennell’s approach to telling Cassie’s story. It’s messy, but in the kind of way that is right for the kind of film that fits perfectly in the times of the #MeToo era. However, it would be too easy and very bias of the film to think that its just the men who are guilty of these actions. So, the film also sheds light on the women who also turn a blind eye to these actions to show that no one of any gender, race, or creed can be absolved of crimes and wrongs.
“Promising Young Woman” is accompanied by plenty of telling aesthetics that are a reflection of just how toxic the culture can be today. It burrows into the subconscious in such that that is shocking and stirring to the mind. That slow string cover of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” is cold and unnerving, so much so it’s downright scary and inflicts a psychological wound. In a way, it’s an auditory representation of what Cassie has accomplished throughout the film.
“Promising Young Woman” is far just from one of those revenge flicks we’ve seen in the past it is a moving piece that pierces in such a way that wakes its audience up to all of the toxicity that exists within today’s culture. It’s the kind of film that makes us feel guilty about the dark humor and at the same time has us rooting for a character like Cassie who is willing to burn any bridge in order to call attention to the men and women who chose to ignore indignities.
“Promising Young Woman” opens in theaters on December 25, 2020.