Promising Young Woman makes it one of those narratives which might be fancy and stylized in its approach but still does not fall into the trap of stereotyping the character arcs. It will grab your attention even if you have inconsistent opinions as compared to the director. By inconsistent, I do not mean the ideology purported by the film but the treatment of the film itself. The creative choices could be debated upon but I do not believe anybody would question the vision of the director in what she wanted. Emerald Fennell has written and directed this engrossing dark comedy.
Carey Mulligan plays the challenging part of Cassandra Thomas with some conviction. Playing as well as writing such a character is always a dubious proposition. One always wants to impart poetic justice yet stay politically correct. Often the general audience has the habit of fickle judgments. You never know when the whole perception and notion is turned upside down because people are not always patient enough and willing to go beyond.
But Emerald Fennell does a fine job as a writer and Carey Mulligan explores the multifaceted personality of Cassandra Thomas with authenticity and originality.
‘Promising Young Woman’ Summary
A drunk woman almost on the verge of passing outsits in the corner of a bar trying to gather herself up. Four guys standing on another corner get enticed by the mere “opportunity” of the moment. One questions how she is so careless in her approach that she can get so drunk, considering anybody can take advantage of her (which obviously doesn’t include them, because they are the good guys). Another one questions the prudence of her friends, who have left her to be devoured by scavengers (not them, because they would rather make it to the category of harmless herbivores). One of the friends named Jerry (Adam Broody) says that he will escort the lady to her home safely. They both board the cab. Somewhere midway, seeing the extremely vulnerable condition of the girl, Jerry decides that he should take her to his home for a drink maybe (with totally harmless intention though). Once he reaches home he carefully pours triple the amount of alcohol, that he is drinking, into her glass and starts touching her intimately. She blurs out words and phrases like “what are you doing” and “wait” and is totally unresponsive to his sexual advances but Jerry doesn’t stop. He throws her on a bed, gets on her, and starts to caress her body when to his horror she gets up. Totally sober and steady she gets up all of a sudden like she was never drunk and asks him what is he doing.
Moral Policing Through Fear
Cassandra Thomas a.k.a Cassie does this vigilante stuff quite often. She often pretends to be drunk and when some guy comes to take advantage of her unconsciousness she plays along till the last moment. And then scares him in a way that they stop this behavior in the future.
Cassie was not always like this. She had a normal life. She went to med school. Her childhood friend Neena also went with her. A similar incident happened in school when Neena was physically abused by a student named Al Monroe. Neena was inebriated and Al’s lawyer used it against the girl. Al went free and Neena dropped out of med school due to the trauma. Cassie too dropped out to take care of Neena. After some time Neena committed suicide, leaving her best friend ousted from a normal lifestyle.
While she is busy instilling fear in exploiters and unethical males she accidentally bumps into Ryan (Bo Burnham), who used to be in her class and had a crush on her. Through Ryan, she comes to know about the well being and prosperity of Al Monroe and the group of friends whom she holds responsible for Neena’s trauma. A resurgence of old wounds brings those traumatic memories and they taste even more bitter now. Cassie takes it upon herself to make them realize their sins.
Psyche through the narrative
The small interactions, subtle nuances, and detailed analysis of the psyche of a male who wants to just break free from the chains of morality are what make Promising Young Woman stand apart. You get a lot of information about the stand of society and why sexual abuse is so hard to prove in the court of law. The legal phrase ” innocent until proven guilty” has its own loop holes and often the benefit of the doubt is taken by the accused.
For me, the most fascinating aspect was how the self-proclaimed conscientious males are not able to draw a line, get lured by the inevitability of them getting caught, and throw the burden of having committed a crime away. It shows that our moral compass is governed by the fact that we might get caught. Once you remove the idea of being punished or being caught in the act, then the majority will do things that they have held immoral. The writing totally justifies these flawed foundations by giving us some meaty scenes and confrontations.
Too bright and beautiful
The bone of contention for me does not lie in the intention of the filmmaker but in the visual representation and creative decisions and viewpoints. Promising Young Woman purports itself as a dark comedy/thriller, but it is too bright for me to totally drench myself in such a dark and savage theme. For me, it loses its realistic touch in the way the production design, lighting, and colors are approached at.
The nitty-gritty of an impacting thriller for me is when the shadow looms above like a dementor and the sunshine feels a distant reality. When the clouds are opaque enough and block all the hope. When revenge is not a choice but the only recourse to free yourself from the dreary cycle.
I have always been a believer of the fact revenge is a dish best served cold and a few directors mastered the act of obtaining poetic justice through their stories, David Fincher being one of them. But then again it is just my opinion.
Promising Young Woman is Emerald Fennell’s debut directorial venture and I think she has done a marvelous job with the little nuances in the screenplay. She gives a lot to play for the protagonist Cassie and Carey Mulligan is able to maintain that enigma that was required.
Promising Young Woman is currently available on Video On Demand.