Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

This is one of the films that start strong, have a somewhat solid ending but some weaknesses in the middle that I think could have been avoided. Carey Mulligan does a decent job in portraying Cassandra Thomas, a woman who hits her thirties and has resigned herself for a dead-end job in a coffee shop after she dropped out of med school and has since lived with her parents. What director Emerald Fennell does great is to introducing Cassie and her mental issues bit by bit over the first thirty minutes but without telling you how bad it really is; the first scene that introduces her parents might even let you believe her mother is a bit too annoying and dramatic. It’s later you realize how Cassie has practically given up living and shows no interest in getting better after she lost the most important person in her life – a process that might have gone for years now and which explains why her mother might be a nervous and nagging wreck who despairs by the thought that her once promising daughter is nowadays only one bad day away from committing suicide.

And she might not be that wrong, because Cassie actually does engage in destructive behavior by going out and acting drunk to bait men into ‘taking care of her’ which only means they try to bring her home, make her even more drunk and have their way with her, not realizing that she only waits for them to cross a line. What happens afterwards is initially a mystery, meant to make us wonder if she might kill them like the ordinary moviegoer has been trained to anticipate by these kinds of films.
Sadly, the mystery and the whole tricking aspect is soon abandoned in favor of a rom-com and without showing us interesting cases like men who are not creepy predators or the consequences of landing with someone who might hurt her for such a stunt. I do believe the filmmakers could have explored this part of her character more. At least the latter was meant to get mentioned but for some reason the scene got lost on the cutting floor … but thank god, we got a terrible cheesy montage to a terrible Paris Hilton song! (And I know this is meant to parody the rom-com genre, but it still felt like a waste of several minutes that could have been used for other things …)

Instead, we are introduced to Ryan Cooper, a former classmate during med school and played by Bo Burnham, the obligatory love interest of the film. Now, I have no problem with romances in films – even the somewhat forced ones – when they are sweet enough and the chemistry between the characters doesn’t feel forced. In the case of Promising Young Woman what bothers me is the fact that the end of this romance was foreseeable in one way or another; the reveal that Ryan is in the end just another asshole shouldn’t come as a surprise. I guess I should be happy that it was just his knowledge of the rape and how unapologetic he is about it that ended the relationship and not as I feared that he might get violent at some point, but it still felt cheap. I have to wonder if it was really necessary … did the film improve with a doomed relationship? Wouldn’t it have been better to cut the whole romance and to explore her troubled relationship with her boss and her parents? I don’t even think it would have been necessary to include Ryan in the video twist. To see how her desire for revenge is bigger than the chance of a normal live with the only guy she considered different might have been more impactful than the plump reveal how nasty the guy really is.

The film does get points for the haunting death of Cassie. The way how it is drawn-out with the screams at the beginning and her desperate struggling made me feel very uncomfortable. It comes out of nothing after an hour of mostly threats and mind-games and in the wake of an intense climax and is very graphical without using blood or showing us a close-up. I have to commend Fennell for the way her death and the subsequent disposing happened in such a nonchalant, casual way.
I do have to mention that the ending is a little bit to cliché and I wish Fennell had kept the intended ending where the corpse is burned and had just added the scene in which the guilt-ridden lawyer got hold of the phone as a post-credit scene to keep everything ambitious enough without being downright negative like in the initial planning nor as the ‘happy ending’ we got.

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