Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman

Offensively stupid on multiple levels, a movie by people who think real rape-revenge films are beneath them while condescendingly co-opting those films' transgressive impact – but they can't even get that right, because any feints towards real violence are effectively neutered by some goody two-shoes bullshit where Carey Mulligan surprises would-be date rapists by giving them a stern talking-to instead of cutting their dicks off. (And let me tell you, as someone who has had their fair share of interactions with date-rapey guys, in a scenario where a woman has pretended to be black-out drunk only to reveal that she’s not, the only thing this unexpected turning of the tables is going to do is reinforce these guys' beliefs that women are manipulative liars and that sex is a battle to be won.)

Other, better writers have covered the film's infuriating ideas about structural sexism (institutions will let you down but good cops will save the day?) and its lack of commitment to its aesthetic ideas, but here’s something else that pisses me off: the film's total sexlessness. Coralie Fargeat's Revenge understands that women's sexual power is something they have a right to enjoy on their own terms, without being punished for it or expected to dish it out to every guy who wants a piece, and a key part of that film's appeal lies in its lead’s unapologetic eroticism. In Promising Young Woman every character who fucks is either a rapist, a rape apologist, or having joyless sex strategically in order to manipulate men (Alison Brie's smug wife character, Fennell herself in a director cameo as blow-job lips tutorial woman, the pitiable “bikini model” who marries the head rapist). And sure maybe the idea is that sex for Mulligan's character has been so poisoned by the weird early 2000s-era rape culture she finds herself living in that she can't conceive of enjoying it anymore, but it really feels like the film sees that as a virtue and not a tragedy. Has there been a bigger cringe moment in a film from 2020 than the scene where Mulligan trudges sullenly towards the climactic bachelor party while an ominous string quartet cover of “Toxic” by Britney Spears plays, wearing a skimpy nurse costume with all its sexiness (ironic or otherwise) completely drained out of it? Just let her enjoy her erotic capital for a minute or derive some small enjoyment from seducing all these guys even if it is only so that she can teach them a lesson about how all men are trash or some horseshit. 

I felt pretty sure I'd hate this film after seeing its trailer months ago but I paid to see it in a theatre because I thought I might get a kick out of some of its surface pleasures. Those are mostly pretty thin on the ground – some of Mulligan’s outfits are cute but they really don’t suit her at all, and the film’s sexed-up trailer is of course a lie – but they aren't totally absent either, and I enjoyed Laverne Cox, Bo Burnham’s whole schtick, and I guess … the cupcakes in the coffee shop look nice? Oh, and I liked it when Mulligan spit in Bo Burnham’s coffee, that was fun.

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