Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

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What's most impactful about Promising Young Woman is how it utilizes exploitation tropes in pursuit of a subversive angle on grief and trauma. Now, that's not anything new, really, and from watching the trailer, I don't blame you if you toss this off as an 'a e s t h e t i c' IG post Elevated rape-revenge thriller, but it has some bite, often at the cost of its own coherency as a narrative. It's a thorny premise - a woman plays drunk and then moralizes these predators after they take her home - that some might immediately take issue with (not that they don't deserve it; she's letting them off easy), but it goes in often unexpected directions.

For one, it was unique how Carey Mulligan's character arc wasn't rooted in her experiences as a rape victim, but pushing for retribution and responsibility for her friend who was. The scene between Mulligan and Alfred Molina's lawyer character, in which he begs for forgiveness in letting these cases slide, day after day, as he's wrestling with his own collective trauma, is a central moment in the movie. But that POV comes at a price, mostly in how it can seem reductive to so frequently recall the rape-revenge genre while not having that central personal motivation.

This leads me to the climatic moment where Cassandra is murdered by Al Monroe. A total 'rug pull' that I thought was going to lead to a discussion of the fruitlessness of attempting to 'fix' men's inherent monstrosity and complicity. She went through all this effort and was still destroyed by the patriarchy. Not subtle, but it's a gut punch. This is made even more brilliant with a 'morning after' scene between Al and Joe, and how Joe talks to and reassures Al that everything is going to be OK, and that it wasn't his fault, much like how a rape victim is consoled. Unfortunately, the film attempts to give Cassandra a righteous revenge end, while still only having the antagonists fall into the hands of the cops (???). It's hard to believe that law enforcement and the justice system will bring forth satisfactory justice, and that these men will receive any real consequences for their actions. Any excitement of the texts from beyond the grave are just that: she's still dead.

But still, there's a lot of success in how this film navigates 'nice guy' experiences, and Carey Mulligan dazzles in an electric and committed performance. It showcases a perspective of a woman taking on her friend's trauma in the pursuit of finding her own personal retribution. It's too bad that the central narrative thread loses itself, and is crucially underdeveloped.