Directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman follows Cassie and her odd life as a coffee house waitress by day and an alcoholic by night, or at least how that seems to be. Emotionally damaged due to a traumatic event in the past, she sets herself on a path to set things right after coming across a new piece of information.
Promising Young Woman probably hits way different to someone who hasn’t lived life with “male privilege”. It’s something I might never relate to the way a woman in a patriarchal society might. From my perspective, being an oppressed woman must be claustrophobic, demeaning, and just downright unfair. However, what does that really feel like? Movies like Promising Young Woman get me closer to understanding that, which I truly appreciate. What’s also interesting, however, is wondering if the issue has got so big, it could be generalized. Have we got to the point where men no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt? Is a man now more likely guilty than innocent when accused of crimes against women? Promising Young Woman raises some very interesting questions.
What the movie gets right the most is it’s casting choices. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as Cassie who can be both intimidating and gentle when she needs to. What’s also peculiar are all the casting choices for the men. The movie has multiple male characters that are essentially “spineless scoundrels” but have been cast with comedians that have essentially played “nice guys” in the past. The list includes Bo Burnham, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Max Greenfield, Chris Lowell among a few more. It’s a great way to subvert expectations that are consistent with the message. Seemingly nice guys can also be complete cheats. The cast performs exactly how they need to and are thoroughly engaging.
All of Cassie’s conflicts with the men around her lead to an unexpected climax that could potentially divide audiences. Over some time and thought, however, it only makes sense and is fitting to her character arc. What initially feels like a life without repercussions is suddenly made very real and brings some levity to what would’ve otherwise felt like preaching. The only problem with it is how it gets there and I wish more thought went into how the events unfolded.
What doesn’t work
Circling back to what I started this review with, mostly all male characters in the movie are morally intolerable. Yes, that’s consistent with what Cassie’s world looks like. Yes, there is a toxic culture when it comes to men approaching women and I agree most men probably are active participants in it. However, just for argument’s sake, if the tables are turned and a film has female characters that are only portrayed as dumb or gullible, it would be tagged misogynistic, even if it didn’t actively make that claim. It’s only fair that the same rules apply to Promising Young Woman.
The fact that this film doesn’t have a single morally sound and fleshed out male character is a big oversight. A generalization like this stops me from taking the film too seriously. That’s unfortunate because there is a lot of truth to the way it portrays men and how they view women. It just would’ve been more believable to see at least one male character that offers a sense of hope to this world rather than just pointing at the problems.
Promising Young Woman is fearless with its ideas of Feminism and toxic masculinity around us, carried by a promising directorial debut. Even though not entirely true to real life, it is very self-aware, topped with one of the most mature and bold endings to a movie in recent memory.