Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★★

“You might be surprised to hear that gentlemen are sometimes the worst”

Of all the bright, pastel, and saccharine imagery in Promising Young Woman, nothing is sweeter than the revenge. Playing to the wildest dreams of getting back against a sexist, patriarchal society, the first feature from director Emerald Fennell is a revenge fantasy against sexual assaulters that panders to an exuberant vision of justice--justice that is infuriatingly absent from the real world. Knowing how unjustly these events play out in reality, it makes the sly, fearless smiles of Carey Mulligan’s Cassie all the more delightful as she unravels her plans of blissful vengeance. Submerging herself in the world of ugly, deteriorating male bodies--otherwise known as the men who pick up women at clubs--Cassie intentionally puts herself in the vulnerable position of a seemingly intoxicated girl who is poised for some “gentleman” to take advantage of her. When the truth of her cognizance and a confrontation about their actions beset these men, the self-rationalization about their actions comes stumbling out of their mouths for they are unable to fully accept the criminality of their actions against their self-aggrandizing egos. After all, they are nice guys, they think, and that excuse makes Cassie’s own nocturnal predatory behavior luscious.

Yet a lot of sugar causes cavities, and this film recognizes the all-consuming nature that comes with revenge. The life events that have led Cassie to this point are traumatic, and she’s not living every moment of her life as cool, calculating, and confident. Disillusioned, angry, and sarcastic, Cassie is a young adult still stuck at home, still living in the past. Her air of detachment is just a mask to hide the pain, leaving her unable to make connections like she had in the past: not with her friend at the coffee shop, and not with her traditional parents whose age-old aesthetics wish her happiness through meeting the right guy. And just like in a fantasy novel, the right guy comes along, in the form of the perpetually 20s looking Bo Burnham. He plays Ryan, a former classmate upset he never had the courage to ask her out but now persistently wants that chance. In the form of a blossoming rom-com, the all-encompassing nature of retribution takes a backseat to movie nights, singing along to pop songs, and the small smiles of being with someone caring. It’s spiritually cleansing to leave the rage behind and find happiness, and through this new path, there’s a discovery that the best way to get back at an unfair world is to live on in joy despite it.

Promisng Young Woman, however, is not a film for unambiguous, tidy endings, and in a series of acts that are combinations of shocking and satisfying, Fennell makes statements about the patriarchy, the price of vengeance, how justice can finally prevail, even as the mechanisms to do so may run some the wrong way when it comes to law enforcement. Still, it is ambitious, and in keeping with the promise of reality, the past comes to revisit Cassie; as she soon finds out, the past is never gone as something always pops up that further unshrouds the mystery of all that happened. In this story, revenge is a choice, and while the crusade to correct is noble, it comes with personal cost. There’s a final choice for Cassie, knowing how her life has finally found happiness but that there is still so much wrong with the world. In a just world, there would be no need to leave that happiness behind, but just as the longing wails of the strings haunt Cassie, so too does that drive to repay the harms festering in the world. When men will save themselves above justice, and when people give the benefit of the doubt to those prestigious men than to the down on their luck woman, the only way to correct that is with sacrifice.. There's never a way to find a perfect ending in an imperfect world, but just like Cassie herself, Promising Young Woman finds a way to relish where it can, and by the end, there's a satisfaction to the journey with moments as delicious as only promising young women like Cassie and Fennell can provide.