With a semi-satirical accent, the first few minutes of “Promising Young Woman” manage to both clearly establish and protest the painfully ludicrous reality women experience on a daily basis, in the face of misogyny, sexism, and wanton sexual harassment. A trio of male colleagues, befitting all the slanderous accompaniments of the term “bro”, are at a bar half-drunk, and cribbing about a female colleague’s rational outcries about workplace discrimination. They deem themselves rightful in their petty arguments. Noticing a very drunk woman slouched over on a couch, their discourse then pivots to moral-shaming her - about alcohol abuse, provocative attire, promiscuity, the works. One among the trio approaches her under the veil of helping her, and before you know it, the woman is at his apartment. Pretending and proclaiming to be a nice guy, he then proceeds to force himself upon her, while she faintly protests. That’s when the tables turn.
“Promising Young Woman” is a bitter pill inside a sweet sugary coating. It exposes the female experience in modern society masked within with a shiny bright surface tale of revenge, love, and possible redemption. After her childhood friend suffers a brutal treatment in the wake of a sexual assault, Cassie takes it upon herself to evangelize the cause of women’s safety and respect - both tarnished by insurmountable axioms deep embedded in the cultural psyche. Her revenge path is equal parts smart, subtle, and in-your-face, with Cassie making justified, yet myriad and semi-maniacal attempts at righting impenetrable wrongs. After her initial encounter with the semi-drunk “nice guy”, we see her walking home the next morning with red stains on her dress and feet. We just aren’t quite sure if it’s blood from the man she’s just lured from a bar to kill, or if it is just sauce from her morning snack.
Writer-Director Emerald Fennell curates the movie with an amusing irony. Cassie’s life is surrounded by dazzling, vivid colors. Some of the people surrounding her are genuinely nice, yet are complacent, shoving past traumas under the proverbial carpets of life. Perhaps, they have somehow found the resolve to move on, perhaps fighting the good fight in their own unprovocative, conventional ways. Cassie cannot bring herself to make sense of this. Incidentally, she meets a former classmate and ends up dating him. His relationship with Cassie opens the doors for possible and ultimate retribution for her. The movie even swindles us into its mellow rhythms with an affable soundtrack, that includes the likes of Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind”. But a stark and shocking hit of reality is always around the corner.
Carey Mulligan is stellar in the movie, effortlessly switching between the bright hues and the dark ones. Cassie is no hardened vigilante - there is love, strained resolve, and vulnerability under her skin and Mulligan channels this sharply, to the point of smartly employing the subtle tenor in her voice. Benjamin Kracun’s visuals carry the aforementioned dual tone of the movie well, the frames popping vividly on the surface but the movements defining its wryness.
At times, “Promising Young Woman” might play out like a satire, and largely, as a dark comedy. But it really is a helpless smirk at the state of things. One can see this through much of the dialogue and discourse on display - like a guy that goes “why do you guys have to ruin everything?” - when he realizes Cassie’s true motive after picking her up at the bar thinking she was drunk. Beyond its dry humor and short-lived pop corn fantasies, this movie makes you angry. Despite its several colorful affectations, it makes you clearly see the futile attempts of a young woman to just be heard!
Atlantic City says so much about two people in a relationship, without saying too much.
A comedy that is fun, while being just good cinema in the first place.