Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★½

Men suck. That is the thesis of "Promising Young Woman" and I couldn't agree more. But, Dale, aren't you a man, you might be asking? Why, yes, I am. Thank you for asking. But there are levels of masculinity and I've usually been on the lower end of it. I've never had an interest in sports. I was a scrawny weakling growing up (I've developed a bit more muscle mass since my childhood...I'm not Dwayne Johnson or anything but my arms no longer resemble noodles) and endured a LOT of bullying and ridicule. I recall a period in my middle school years where it felt like I was being hit in the crotch several times a day. I'm sure all of this was meant as playful or whatnot, but I never understood the impulse to "playfully" hit someone or rough-house or whatever. It always seemed stupid and mean to me. That mentality didn't help me with the insufferable alpha males either.

But compared to the average woman, I've had it easy. As a man, I've had a front-row seat to the shitty behavior of men and their terrible, reductive, misogynist attitudes toward women. I listened to their "locker room talk" and, yeah, I occasionally talked about a woman's breasts and how great they were but some guys took it to an unsettling extreme. I'm not completely absolving myself of terrible behavior...and looking back on how I dealt with the unwanted advances of some women and how annoyingly I must have pestered some women I was interested in I feel ashamed of myself. I'm not as bad as others...but who knows how much terrible behavior I have justified or submerged deep in my subconscious in order to live with myself, or how much I've done without even realizing it? I've always considered myself "one of the nice guys" but I probably suck too.

"Promising Young Woman" is about sexual assault and how prevalent it is. It's about how even so-called "nice guys" are guilty of this deplorable behavior. It doesn't let anyone off the hook. The only man who comes across as a decent person is the main character's father, played by Clancy Brown. It's kind of refreshing to see longtime villain Clancy Brown play the purest man in a movie. "Promising Young Woman" has a lot to be pissed off about, and it is vibrantly angry in the way that Spike Lee's best films often are. The film is passionate and angry and lively. It also boasts a fascinatingly complex lead character who often does deplorable things herself in a quest for revenge against those responsible for a particular sexual assault that impacted her personally. I don't condone all of her actions, but I can understand where she's coming from, and she functions as an important figure of wish-fulfillment for women who have endured casual sexism and often far worse. Even when I didn't agree with her methods (or ESPECIALLY when I didn't) I found her mesmerizing.

Carey Mulligan gives a mesmerizing lead performance. It's bruised and angry and ferocious. I love how cleverly this film plays with the viewer's expectations and subverts them, and Mulligan is a crucial component of how it does that. She gives a magnetic and layered performance that is brave enough to venture to dark places time and again. I like the little moments contributed along the way by performers such as Alison Brie, Alfred Molina, Connie Britton, and Bo Burnham (who gives another multi-layered and fascinating performance). I found every scene of this film, every moment, every choice to be fascinating.

Again, I don't condone the actions of the characters but, well, I don't necessarily think that a pre-requisite for a film either. We can learn as much from watching people do bad things as we can from seeing upright, noble heroes always do the right thing. In fact, I feel like we can learn a hell of a lot more. "Promising Young Woman" occupies some of the same moral territory as "Fight Club". It has some thought-provoking things to say and says them in a way that is endlessly engaging and boundary-pushing, a way that is sure to stick in the mind and get people talking. I love that, and I love that this movie plays rough and isn't subtle about making its points. "Promising Young Woman" is every bit as pissed and raw as it should be, but it also works as a great story and character study as well. It's a movie that evokes uneasy laughs and leaves lasting bruises and it 100% should.

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