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Film Review: Promising Young Woman (2020)

Director Emerald Fennell’s debut feature film, Promising Young Woman, is a bold and vivid revenge fantasy and searing take-down of rape culture, misogyny, and self-professing “nice guys.” The absolutely stellar Carey Mulligan weaponizes her perceived pixie girlishness in the title role of Cassie, a thirty-year-old med school dropout dealing with the rage and trauma of her childhood friend’s campus rape and subsequent suicide before the events of the movie. In the aftermath, Cassie becomes a (self-)destructive force, seeking revenge against the individuals who destroyed her friend’s life and against the types of people who perpetuate oppressive systems against victims of sexual assault.

Every weekend, Cassie uses herself as bait, feigning incoherent and fumbling drunkenness at nightclubs, and is inevitably picked up by men who attempt to take sexual advantage of her apparent senselessness. When she reveals that she is, in fact, sober, these men suddenly fear and hate her. Fennell brilliantly casts a host of recognizable faces, famous for playing well-liked roles in the last couple decades of pop culture, to play these cowardly and despicable men, from Adam Brody to Christopher Mintz-Plasse. By doing so, she skewers the popular male belief that “nice guys” are actually in any way nice by holding up a mirror to the creepy and predatory behaviour their “niceness” often tries to hide.

Fennel brilliantly leans into a certain hyper-fetishized girly aesthetic to subvert the images of blonde hair, bubblegum pink hues, babydoll clothes, red lipstick and hearts so they are no longer symbols of innocence and victimhood but a disguise for Cassie to weaponize against her targets. However, the youthful trappings of the protagonist also hints at her arrested development. Since the traumatic events of her friend’s rape, Cassie has not been able to move forward in life and her desire for revenge completely consumes her and stops her from truly being happy and at peace.

Ultimately, Cassie is sacrificed by her commitment to her mission, which is trying to take down the men (and women) who allowed her friend to be ravaged physically and emotionally. The ending is far more bitter than sweet, and it points to the sad reality that rape culture still exists, it still destroys people, and the violence and impact is truly staggering.

Promising Young Woman is truly an exciting debut from Fennell who now has the Oscar recognition to match. Can’t wait to see what she continues to do in the future!

Ratings (out of 5):

Directing: 4

Story: 3.5

Acting: 4.5

Dialogue: 3.5

Editing: 4

Visuals: 5

Music/Score: 5

Overall Average: 4.2


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