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Why I Think Everyone Should Watch A Promising Young Woman

Nominated in 2021 for the Academy Award Best Picture, Academy Award for Best Actress, and Academy Award for Best Directing, Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” is a modern movie that explores triggering themes of rape and sexual assault in a manner that is raw and does not beat around the bush. I encourage anyone to watch this heart wrenching but important film for its handling of said topics and how they address the bullshit surrounding the phrase that “boys will be boys”. Commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month by sitting down and watching this important and hard hitting film.


Released on December 25th 2020, “Promising Young Woman” is a film that follows protagonist Cassandra (Cassie) Thomas played by Carey Mulligan and her secret double life, and how an unexpected encounter attempts to give her a chance to ‘right’ the wrongs from the past. Featuring a stacked cast with actors like that of Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Adam Brody and Max Greenfield to name a few, this film brings attention to the all too common practice of allowing sexual assault and rape to go under the radar and how even ‘the nice boys’ are at fault sometimes. In fear of spoiling the plot, I will simply focus on the important messages I received from viewing this movie and strongly encourage you reading this to go watch it for yourself; it is certainly worth the $6.99 to rent it from the Apple Store. 

Vlad Tchompalov
Vlad Tchompalov / Unsplash

Although this ‘thriller’ covers a variety of themes and subject areas, a key takeaway I got after my first viewing of this groundbreaking film is the consequences of the justification of actions through the phrases “boys will be boys” and we just have to “give them the benefit of the doubt” when it comes to their inappropriate actions and behaviours. This movie, set in modern day after movements like that of ‘Me Too’ and ‘Time’s Up’ covers the subject of rape and sexual assault and both the effects that it has on individuals as well as the reality surrounding the way it is handled and viewed within society. Multiple times throughout the movie, viewers will see a guy claiming just to be ‘helping’ a girl who has had too much to drink quickly turn into predator; statements like that of “we were just kids” or “but I’m a nice guy” can be heard multiple times as a sort of excuse for the actions these men are taking or have done, but being “young and stupid” and claiming to be the “nice guy” is not an excuse and Fennell is addressing just that. 


Using a multitude of techniques to draw in audience members and also get this point across that even nice guys can be predators, Fennell casts actors who have portrayed beloved characters in other roles like that of Max Greenfield who played Schmidt in New Girl, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and his role as McLovin in Superbad, or Adam Brody in his role as Seth Cohen on The O.C., to show audience members that even your favorite male characters, the ones who are sweet and bring you comfort on screen can portray guys who commit sexual assault. Continually throughout the film we hear the excuse that someone is a ‘nice guy’ and ‘was just trying to help’, that ‘they never do anything like this’. These men who want to be a hero, are saving this girl from some bad guy who could take advantage and only have the best intentions, but turns out they aren’t really a ‘nice guy’.  These male characters make excuses that try to pin the woman as the person in the wrong and practices villainizing the woman instead of the man because ‘she was too drunk’, ‘she was dressed like a slut’, or ‘the way she was acting she was asking for it’, somehow justify the guys actions. In society and in the media when stories of sexual assault are covered we often hear these remarks, and director and writer Fennell makes a connection in an almost comedic way that makes this movie so well done, but also so painfully truthful that these behaviours and statements are not just a thing we see in a movie but are a huge part and problem within reality. 

Marchers and counter protesters at the March for Life
Photo by Maria Oswalt from Unsplash

Drawing attention to the idea that anyone can be a predator, whether they claim to be a ‘nice guy’ or not, and the acceptance that this is just how things are for women doesn’t just come from the male characters in the movie, it is what comes from female and male characters alike. In the movie we see a variety of interactions between protagonist Cassie and past ‘friends’, teachers, and classmates. In the movie we hear women brushing off the occurrence of sexual assault within their friend group or communtiy, making it a he said she said battle and too making excuses for these mens behaviours. People of authority trying to cover these people’s asses and take the blame off of them because ‘they were just kids’ and ‘we don’t want to ruin a young boys life like that’, well what about the girl? What about her life? This film draws that all into question and all into perspective in an enjoyable yet chilling way because this isn’t just a movie, unfortunately this is our reality. This is a systemic problem that does not only have to do with males belief that when push comes to shove women are solely an object for pleasure; rape and sexual assault and the way in which they are handled has to do with society and how we have reached the point where we have just accepted this behaviour as a norm, as something that is acceptable and almost expected. 

turned on LED movie projector
Photo by Alex Litvin from Unsplash

This is a movie that is meant to be enjoyed, it is well done and features strong writing, directing and acting, but also as one review states, “it is a tragedy masked as comedy, a movie where an itch for justice is scratched”. It handles subject matter that is very heavy and very triggering but it is an important film nonetheless. The subject of sexual assault and rape is a hard one to write about as a ‘journalist’, and is one made that much harder when trying not to spoil the entire plot of the movie but to stay on point with the title of this article and answer the question as to why you should watch Promising Young Woman here is what I have to offer you: this movie explores themes such as toxic masculinity and sexual assault and does so in a way that provides some dark humor and sinister satisfaction. It is a movie that handles heavy subjects but is one that is important for everyone to watch. There is so much in this film to unpack and discuss and it is an important and raw addressal of the unfortunate reality of sexual assault and the excuse of “boys will be boys”. There is so much to unpack and address so I encourage you to watch the movie for yourself and do some background research on the details. Oh and if you are a dude sitting down to watch this movie and see yourself in the male characters, consider yourself on blast. 


Here is the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston Hotline with support services available 24 hours: 613-544-6424 

Hi my name is Caroline and I am super excited to be joining Her Campus as a writer this year!
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