“She was powerful, not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.” – Atticus
In a year as dismal as this, if no other silver lining exists when it comes to entertainment, it’s the extra room left for the smaller films to be noticed more than they might have during a normal year of countless blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls. A film like Promising Young Woman might have gotten some attention on the award circuit but otherwise probably would have been overlooked. That would have been a shame. This is a film that should be seen and should be experienced for its message and visceral storytelling. It is ugly at times and quite unrelenting.
The final product feels rare, a kind of film that begins with advertising a certain kind of story in the trailers only to alter everything so profoundly without trying to pull one over on its audience. It looks at its audience and says “I know what you were expecting but please allow the story to unfold and I promise the ending will satiate any hopes created by the trailer.” It begins with a hint that it might be the vengeance thriller with a femme fatale at the helm suggested by its trailer but by credit’s end everything you expected is replaced with a truly harrowing morality tale asking only the toughest questions, the questions most dare not imagine.
Carey Mulligan plays a woman scorned by seemingly everyone in her life. From the authorities sworn to protect her to her very own parents she feels abandoned by a society that says of course sexual predators are brought to justice in this country only to find the exact opposite to be the real truth. When she and her friend are forever changed by a brutal sexual assault Cassie (Mulligan) takes justice into her own hands and chooses to punish any who cross her path by means of unwanted sexual advancement. She plays the victim and captures her prey in a web of confusion and helplessness as she exposes her true motives and “teaches” these sexual predators a lesson. But more to the point she punishes anyone that contributed to the overall outcome of her friend’s ultimate downfall. It began with a rape and ended with legal bullshit seemingly created to punish anyone but those responsible. It is unfortunately a horrifying reality that so often the predator becomes the victim in the eyes of justice and the true collateral damage is left by the wayside.
Carey Mulligan is a force to be reckoned with as Cassie. She is fierce and single minded in her goals and determination. The tragedy of her character is realizing as she goes on as she does that nothing will truly close the wound she suffers from on behalf of someone she loves so deeply and so tragically. She is on a self destructive mission of course correction for those deemed hysterical or unable to defend themselves against oppressors of all shapes and sizes. Mulligan is fantastic at creating a balanced performance of laser focus and caustic self treatment. Cassie has a goal but is so changed by the incident that her present becomes highly unstable and begins to eat at her humanity. She becomes someone her friend wouldn’t recognize and therein lies Cassie’s personal tragedy, the loss of her very identity.
More than just a tale of vengeance, Promising Young Woman is a scathing commentary on modern sexual assault cases and the tendency as a society to blame the victims, often so brutalized by their trauma and lack of support leading them to extreme measures including self harm and ultimately suicide. So often the predators of these assaults blame arbitrary influences for their “momentary lapses in judgement.” In reality they are scum who saw an opportunity to take advantage of someone unable to say no to them and only emboldened them to go as far as they do. Then they beg for mercy when the shadows once concealing their evil is doused in unforgiving light exposing them for what they really are.
Simultaneously this is a thrilling ride with a satisfying ending but ultimately it’s only a small victory in the bigger picture of justice and righting the wrongs of such horridness. In the end, death and shame run rampant even when those in the wrong are faced with their crimes in the harshness of public opinion and a pair of handcuffs. In reality most do not face their deserving outcome of a claustrophobic prison cell facing 25 to life. Too often they escape free to potentially do it all over again. Promising Young Woman ponders the question “What if they didn’t get away with it?” It’s a lovely thought.
Promising Young Woman is darkly funny, harrowing and unforgiving in its depiction of a flawed justice system. Its cast gives award worthy performances, particularly Mulligan, and arguably most important, acts as a mirror held up to the society we hold so dear and asks the impossible with zero intention of letting up until answers are given. It does all of this in unexpected and refreshing ways with a soundtrack that not only speaks to the power of the film’s main anti-heroine, it lifts up anyone that’s ever felt lesser than, specifically the female audience. This was a welcomed surprise in a year so thin with entertaining, intelligent content.
Rated R For: strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use
Runtime: 113 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Crime, Drama, Comedy
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Alison Brie, Bo Burnham, Connie Britton
Directed By: Emerald Fennell
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 4.5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 4.5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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