Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Oh boy.

So. I was partly spoiled for this movie in that I'd been tipped off ahead of time that main character Cassie doesn't actually kill any of her "targets," despite the trailer, marketing, and first segment of the film suggesting otherwise. To be honest, I am glad I was, because as angry as the experience of watching this movie has made me, having to also deal with the cute bait-and-switch "oh you THOUGHT" move of promising violent retribution and then jerking it away like a toy would genuinely have sent me over the edge. If you want to thoughtfully take on our desire for violence in the face of harm, violation, and abuse - fine. Do that. Make that movie. But to knowingly tease it then offer no real catharsis seems like a bizarre and insulting move. Is the audience supposed to feel chagrined? Ashamed? Thoughtful? I mostly just felt condescended to.

So yes, from the start it was going to be admittedly hard for this movie to completely win me over. And the opening didn't help. Kicking things off with a montage of anonymous men's disembodied crotches thrusting to a remix of Charli XCX's "Boys" isn't a move I'd call "subtle." And the trio of skeezy dudes who first "prey" on "drunk" Cassie have all the nuance of characters in a 90's anti-drug PSA. We join them as they're lamenting a co-worker or boss complaining to HR about taking clients to a golf club that doesn't allow women. It's not like it's a STRIP CLUB which they can't even GO TO ANYMORE like the GOOD OLD DAYS. Then they spot Cassie. "You know they put themselves in danger, girls like that. If she's not careful someone's going to take advantage. I mean that is just ASKING for it! Look at that. I mean you think you'd learn by that age." Like, come on. Come ON. This shit was nominated for best SCREENPLAY.

Then the good nice upstanding boy of the group, hello Adam Brody, who lets his friends say gross things but doesn't personally chime in takes Cassie home and tries to rape her. And she GETS HIM. She walks home all triumphant in the sunshine with RED STAINS covering her wrinkled business casual wear (while eating some kind of pastry with red filling haaa) and stares down some HECKLING CONSTRUCTION WORKERS en route and sprawls across her pink and white floral comforter and writes down another tally in a little scrunchie-secured pastel blue notebook that wouldn't be amiss among Amy Dunne's office stationary set and the empowering girl rock is playing and I guess our minds are supposed to be fucking BLOWN.

But she ISN'T EVEN KILLING THEM. She is LECTURING THEM. She's feigning drunkenness, getting men to take her home, and just as they remove her panties or get her on their beds or get a finger or two inside her she SHOCKS them into backing off by revealing she is, HA, completely sober! And this little reveal so effectively disarms her targets that they cower and babble their apologies while she tells them they are very very bad and also stop. None of them, oh I don't know, get aggressive or angry with her. None of them try to hurt her. They all just stop as soon as they know they have a conscious audience. That's all it takes! It's a rape revenge film for liberal types who've watched too much West Wing and think all moral challenges can be overcome with a sassy rousing speech. It's rapist debate club. And Cassie is UNDEFEATED.

Why does she do this? Because her friend got raped and the experience traumatized her and ruined her life and she killed herself. So Cassie has adopted her friend's trauma as her own and decided this mission was the best way to somehow tip back the moral scales in a world where literally every man we see is either an attempted rapist or a successful rapist or someone who witnessed and laughed at a rape as it was happening or someone who helped rapists evade punishment. Except for Cassie's father, presumably. But who knows!

And she dates Bo Burnham playing secretly evil Bo Burnham, and for a while that's honestly the most engaging part of the movie because it temporarily becomes a story about someone who's trying to form healthy relationships again in the wake of trauma, and about the conflict in Cassie between her understandable rage and her desire to engage in the world again, and about a woman who's been hurt by men contending with the damage it's done and deciding whether or not she wants to give another man a try, and that is an interesting and real and relatable and compelling thing! But of COURSE Bo Burnham is also evil, and not even like ambiguously culpable and regrets his actions in the face of something horrible and is struggling with making the moral choice in response to the reemergence of something bad he did many years ago, but just a straight up asshole who turns on Cassie on a dime and is like yeah she was crazy lol anyway gotta go attend this rapist's wedding.

And there's a whole thing with Cassie tricking Allison Brie and Connie Britton into thinking she and her daughter, respectively, were raped, for their crimes related to dismissing her friend's allegations, and then confronting Alfred Molina who worked as like a rape defense lawyer and bullied countless young women into silence but now feels really bad about it and "had a psychotic break" and wants Cassie to hurt him and doesn't sleep anymore so because he's the only man in this universe apparently capable of self-reflection and remorse, despite maybe arguably having the most power and committing the most harm out of anyone in the entire film!!!! Is instantly forgiven by a tearful Cassie as he kneels at her lap. Like it's her fucking forgiveness to GIVE. Like it does ANYTHING for the many, many women whose lives were ruined by this man. I mean. I MEAN.

And THEN. Jesus Christ, THEN. We get the reveal that there's video of her friend's rape, and evil Bo Burnham was there and saw it and was like lol bro this is crazy wow and she uses it to threaten him into telling her the location of her friend's rapist's bachelor party and she disguises herself as a stripper and drugs the whole group and gets the rapist alone, cuffs him to the bed, lectures him about his evil deeds and how amazing her friend was because god knows this woman loves a lecture, and announces she's going to carve her friend's name into this guy as punishment.

Then he kills her!

Like, really kills her! We get a lingering 2 minutes and 50 seconds of him tackling her to the bed and holding a pillow over her face as she fights and struggles for air. The only real violence we see in the entire film and it's her murder. And his friend finds them the next morning, and they decide to cover it all up and burn the corpse and go get ready for the wedding. And when the cops come prying they decide it was probably a suicide because Cassie was so troubled, and they interview evil Bo and he's like oh yeah probably, and everything is pretty sad.

But a-Ha! Cassie KNEW she would probably be murdered! She had the phone with the original video of the rape mailed to Alfred Molina the repentant rapist defender! With a letter telling him the rapist probably killed her! So the cops go find the scattered ashes of her burnt corpse and they bust up the wedding ceremony of rapist and friends where evil Bo Burnham is in attendance and they arrest the bad man and evil Bo gets a series of pre-scheduled texts from dead Cassie being like "hey bitch I bet you thought you'd seen the last of me... well now you're all arrested ;)" and it's supposed to be... cathartic? Darkly funny? Inspiring?

Just like.... FUCK. FUCK THIS. A "rape revenge" movie about a woman who in the end can only think to enact vengeance by making herself a victim of violence. That is how Cassie finally gets her satisfaction. Being murdered by the man who raped her best friend. Just as she orchestrated. And leaving "justice" in the hands of the fucking police who, we all know, are true friends to women and sexual assault survivors everywhere. I mean COME THE FUCK ON. How deeply fucking stupid and misogynistic.

I feel like there's so much more I could still say. The weirdly sexist tones in scenes where Cassie watches a makeup tutorial on youtube, or mocks the teenage daughter of her school's Dean as being "stupid but pretty." The music choices. The heavy-handed AVENGING ANGEL imagery. The PASTELS.

In the end it'll probably win an oscar or two, because it's a "Women's Issues" movie and the academy will see it as throwing a bone to those fiery gals with their causes and aggrievances, but if you're looking to this movie for a nuanced take on power, harm, justice, violence, or sexual assault it's just fucking insulting.

Final take: don't waste your time, fuck this movie, watch Hard Candy instead

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