“Promising Young Woman” is a twist on a rape-revenge story directed by Emerald Fennell. This film features shocking tweets, a subversive pastel color palette, and fodder for endless conversations about sexual assault. “Promising Young Woman” is nominated for Best Picture, Carey Mulligan for Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.
“Promising Young Woman” was advertised to me as neon and fresh take on a rape-revenge story, and couldn’t disappoint more. The film is very much a product of the #MeToo movement but does absolutely no empowerment for sexual assault victims. Every choice made as a subversion of this type of story only muddies the waters more. Although I won’t get into specifics, “Promising Young Woman” shows that, in the end, victims themselves will never get justice because the director wants to show what sexual assault “is really like.” Why? Why can’t women dream of getting absolute justice after being violated, and why can’t we show that on film? The director is dead set on making her candy-colored world still bitingly real, which only disappoints me. Although I can’t quite articulate what this exactly means, but most praise I’ve seen of this movie is coming from cisgender heterosexual men, and while they can be a victim of sexual assault too, I can’t help but wonder why cishet men like this disproportionately more than other groups. I think it may look like a “badass woman” story, and rooting for that could look good for a person who may not have ever had to worry about sexual assault besides an accusation of being an attacker. Carey Mulligan’s performance is okay, and I can’t say it deserves any awards nominations beyond that, let alone win. “Promising Young Woman” is a frustrating look at sexual assault and victimhood hidden behind some nice visuals that may be eclipsing the truth of this story. Just watch “I May Destroy You” on HBO Max instead. - Allie Remhof
“Promising Young Woman” is a new look when it comes to the conversation surrounding gender and rape culture. We are currently partaking in Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and I feel this is an important movie to watch when trying to understand the differences in how men and women are treated in today’s society which adds to the rising number of sexual assault cases. This can immediately be seen at the beginning of the film when Carey Mulligan’s character Cassandra is pretending to be out of her mind drunk, and the men who are onlookers to her drunken state begin to berate her saying women like Cassandra put themselves in danger. They then go on to agree that if she’s not careful someone is going to take advantage of her which is so ironic considering these are the kind of men who would take advantage of women. Victim-blaming seems to be a constant theme throughout this movie because it is amazing how many women deal with it. It’s always “she should not have drank that much,” or “she sleeps around a lot, so how do we know she’s telling the truth?” Not to mention, the classic, “accusations like that could ruin his life; it’s innocent until proven guilty.” All of these statements are portrayed in this female revenge fantasy, and it reminds me of cases like Chanel Miller and Marie Adler, where women were victim-blamed and simply not believed. Chanel Miller is particularly more heart-wrenching because she is one of the many women who did not get the justice she deserves, just like Cassandra’s friend Nina, who Cassandra is avenging in this story.
However, the film inherently makes a comedy out of Cassandra’s obsession and sociopathy, and this is all muddled with a soundtrack of classic pop songs and a production filled with bright pastel colors. The film does not think about consent outside of sex when Cassandra is enacting her revenge, and we ultimately lose trust in her as a character and question whether she has good intentions. I don’t think one can get the satisfaction they desire from a revenge plot with this movie because, personally, it constantly made me go back and forth on whether I should root for this main character or not.
Furthermore, the ending of the movie does not seem to give any hope to sexual assault victims when it comes to getting justice, but this is a fantasy movie which means I guess I should not look into the facts that much? I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t think this movie does a great deal of justice for sexual assault victims, but it clearly acknowledges that rape culture is prevalent which provides some insight into what needs to change in society. It does show that victims tend to end up as another statistic on the board which becomes more apparent with the ending, so I’m glad the movie touches on these difficult topics and the frustration women endure. I just would not say this movie is satisfying if that’s what people are looking for when wanting to watch a revenge plot. Some call this a successful revenge story and others say it’s the opposite. I choose the latter. Despite this, when one considers the purposes of the film, the ending truly makes a statement. - Shreya Kancharla
“Promising Young Woman” was a movie that I was really looking forward to seeing this year. In fact, the day it came out on demand, I bought it for $20! There were a couple of reasons that I was so intrigued by the movie. First of all, I loved how it was a female-directed movie that dealt with female-related issues-- but of course, women aren’t the only people who deal with rape. It felt refreshing to see a woman’s take on a movie that covers heavy and triggering topics such as rape culture and sexual assault. Secondly, the aesthetic of the movie is right up my alley. The pinks and blues of the movie create a candy-colored tone that contrasts with the harsh and dark topics of the movie.
Now, let's dissect the movie. When I watched it, there were definitely things that I liked and things that I didn’t like. Firstly, I thought Carey Mulligan’s and Bo Burham’s performances were really great and very believable. One thing that the movie executed really well was the casting. As we follow Cassandra, played by Mulligan, around in the beginning as she is performing her act like a drunk woman in bars, we see that the guys who are taking her home and attempting to sexually assault her are comedic actors that we love like Adam Brody, who played Seth Cohen on the O.C., Bo Burham, who is a comedian, and Christoper Mintz-Plasse who most famously played Fogell in Superbad. The reason Fennell wanted comedic actors were to show that even the “good guys” are not trustworthy, and it’s not always some creepy, old man who hurts women. Secondly, as I said previously, the aesthetic of the movie really helps offset the tone. If you watched the movie without sound, it would come off as a bright romcom and I think that is perfect for the plot, as the pinks and blues distract the audience from the twist at the end. Thirdly, the directing is really well executed. Fennel did a great job in her direction of the movie and creates an eerie, yet playful atmosphere that keeps the audience guessing on what is actually going to happen. All in all, I think the movie is really strong and is one of my favorites of 2020.
However, there are a couple of things that I didn't necessarily love. We follow Cassandra after her best friend Nina has been raped and killed herself because no one believed her at their medical school. One of my biggest problems with this movie is how distant I felt from Cassandra, and I think this is a direct correlation to the fact that we never meet Nina or get to know her. Cassandra obviously loves Nina very much but, we never get to see their relationship bloom or their chemistry together. Because of this, at times Cassandra’s actions made me feel overwhelmed as if I didn’t understand why she was doing so much for Nina. Of course, I understand why she wanted revenge but, at times I felt like because we didn’t truly understand Nina and Cassandra’s relationship, and Cassandra’s actions were hard to follow. This problem also stems from the fact that there is no character development. Now, I know that the whole point of the movie is to show that men who rape women and allow other men to get away with it never really change, but we never see Cassandra’s character development. It feels as if her character development stays at a plateau and goes up for a second and then plateaus again. Part of me understands that the point of the movie isn’t for us to take a deep dive into Cassandra’s life and how she has changed but, I feel like it would help me better understand Cassandra.
All in all, I liked this movie and definitely recommend it to others. It is not a perfect movie by any means but, it takes on a very sensitive and hard topic and coated it with vibrant and bright colors to cover the dark twists and turns of the events that take place. - Olivia Soosaar