Title: Promising Young Woman
Describe This Movie In One Army of Darkness Quote:
SHEILA: You found beautiful once ...
Brief Plot Synopsis: Former med student victimizes deserving men.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 "Stars Are Blind" maxi-singles out of 5.
Tagline: "Take her home and take your chances."
Better Tagline: "Brock Turner is still a rapist."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Former medical student Cassie (Carey Mulligan) has found a way to deal with her best friend Nina's unpunished sexual assault: seducing and humiliating potential predators. But two new developments - falling for an old classmate (Bo Burnham) and the return of Nina's assailant — threaten to upend her admittedly unsustainable lifestyle.
"Critical" Analysis: Rape/revenge movies are inherently unpleasant, for pretty obvious reasons. Cathartic they may be, but the seeds of that catharsis lie in the commission of a terrible crime, a crime that's often unfortunately used solely as a plot device to motivate the (usually) male protagonist (see: half the Westerns released post-1965).
What makes Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman such an unusual example of the genre is how it subverts our expectations. The "revenge" portion of these films is usually straightforward violence, but Cassie is more interested in confronting her would-be assailants with their hypocrisy and humiliating them.
It's an interesting choice, not the least because pulling the switcheroo on a drunk/coked-up guy in his own home seems unnecessarily dangerous. And on its face, the premise sounds like a great one for a horror movie, and you may be mildly disappointed to learn Cassie's not leaving a trail of douche bro bodies in her wake.
What Fennel and Mulligan (who's terrific, by the way) do very well is confront decades of rationalization and excuses for sexual assault. Every one of Cassie's "victims" maintains their inherent goodness even as they backpedal from their actions. Mulligan's exchange with one such unfortunate, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, about the "connection" he claims he felt with her, is a cringe all-timer.
And that's what anchors the movie: the blistering rejection of those norms. Every dude's lament about how they're really a "nice guy," every offhanded leer and grope, every plea to consider the bright future of these business casual creeps is exposed for the hollow lies they are.
But Cassie isn't unfazed, either by her actions or the crime she's avenging. She lures her old schoolmate Madison (Alison Brie) to lunch, gets her drunk, and leaves her with a strange man. Then she hires a guy to beat up (kill?) the attorney who defended Nina's rapist, and she quasi-abducts the daughter of the dean (Connie Britton) who swept the charges against Nina's assailant under the rug.
The message is clear: the victims may bear the brunt of these horrible crimes, but their effects ripple out to everyone. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in an especially moving scene between Cassie and Nina's mother (Molly Shannon), one that also subtly demonstrates the futility of Cassie's actions.
Cassie does encounter one apparently unironically "nice" guy, and old school acquaintance named Ryan (Burnham). However, in keeping with Fennell's unflinching approach, not even he's entirely what he seems.
Nifty performances are everywhere to be found here, from Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown playing it relatively straight as Cassie's bewildered parents, to Laverne Cox as her manager/confidant. It must say something for trans representation when Cox can be cast as the boring bestie with nothing else being said about it.
But all bets are off when the climax kicks in. The less said about it, the better, and it's going to piss a lot of people off. It doesn't go where you're expecting, which is something of a shame, but also (sort of) realistic. Would it have been better for Cassie to go ham on these guys? Hard to say, and ultimately, not really for me to decide.
Promising Young Woman is in select theaters today.
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