Movie review: Promising Young Woman
T/W This article includes references to rape and sexual assault.
Hi, I’m Fatima. I’m 19 years old and a policy apprentice. I’m an avid reader and I aspire to be and writer some day. I do all sorts of volunteering for The Mix, but my main priorities are working with the safeguarding policy team and working as an ambassador.
Promising Young Woman is genre-bending thriller film written, produced, and directed by Emerald Fennell. It stars Carey Mulligan as a young woman haunted by a traumatic past, as she navigates balancing forgiveness and vengeance.
Cassie Thomas is a 30-year-old dropout from Forrest Medical School who lives with her parents, Stanley, and Susan, while working at a coffee shop. Years earlier, her med school classmate, Al Monroe, raped her best friend and classmate, Nina Fisher; there was neither an investigation by the school nor consequences from the legal system.
As the film progresses, Cassie systematically targets anybody who was involved in facilitating Nina’s rape. She begins with her former classmate and friend Madison, who had denied Nina was raped and offered her no support. Cassie next targets Elizabeth Walker, the Dean at Forrest, who dismissed Nina’s case for “lack of evidence.” She then turns her attention to Jordan Green, Al’s lawyer, who harassed Nina into dropping charges. After learning her boyfriend Ran acted as a bystander while Nina was being raped, Cassie dumps him. Finally, Cassie plots revenge on Al, Nina’s rapist. However, she isn’t successful and is eventually murdered by Al.
The film’s reception
The feminist blockbuster was critically acclaimed and won numerous awards such as the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. With a critic’s score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 88%, the thriller film was a universal success.
My reaction to the film
The film’s reception surprised me.
After watching the film, I felt a mixture of emotions all convoluted and contradictory, yet mostly pleasant. Something about this movie puzzles me. On the surface, it seems to be another light, airy, easily digestible movie to occupy our minds for a couple of hours, and yet there’s no denying the dark and twisted undertones that colour every scene. Carey Mulligan, the lead actress who played Cassie in the movie described it best in an interview with Variety. She says, “It’s sort of a beautifully wrapped candy, and when you eat it, you realise it’s poisonous.”
My issue with the film’s reception
So, you can imagine my surprise at how well received the film was. I should have been pleased considering I thoroughly enjoyed it, yet I couldn’t be. I couldn’t help but feel the critics, the audience, or both have gotten distracted by the fun and the hilarity of the movie (and it had both of those things) and failed to recognise that this movie is an unflinching confrontation of rape culture and all who uphold it. If they did, then perhaps there would be more comments like, “how come all the men in this movie are portrayed negatively?” “Why can’t Cassey just forgive Ryan? and “why doesn’t Cassey just move on?” In other words, the use of the “not all men” narrative to entirely dismiss the grievances of women.
This is not to say audiences weren’t visibly disturbed the Feminist blockbuster. In fact, in recalling the film’s electric premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Mulligan says: “No one was sitting comfortably in their seats. You could feel their stomach muscles all tightened up. I think that really is a rare thing. It does provoke a reaction that is unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time.” However, from comments on social media sites it seems what caused that reaction was not anger at the men who caused the death of two young women, nor at the men Cassey lured. Rather, it was commentary on not liking the film’s ending or not finding Cassey “likeable” enough. This mentality insinuates that she “had what was coming to her” and that she deserved her tragic ending.
Why I wrote this article.
My main motivation for writing this piece is to encourage my generation to think beyond surface level, pink washed, capitalist Feminism that dominates discussions within the movement. I feel that Promising Young Woman is a perfect example of this. Feminists around the world relished in the film’s commercial success and didn’t seem to realise that the message was lost to many audiences. Many audiences didn’t understand the message, and those who did weren’t pleased with what it had to say.
With increasing violence towards women and those perceived as women at the hands of men, as evidenced by the deaths of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa, I feel it’s time we finally stop kidding ourselves with false accolades of success. As long as victims and unintended victims of sexual assault (represented by Nina and Cassey in the film) continue to be viewed unsympathetically by the justice system and society, rape culture and its complementary systems aren’t going anywhere.
If you’re affected by any of the issues raised in this article, know that you are not alone. You can get in touch with our team today for free and confidential support.
Read The Mix’s article on how to support a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
- Solace Women's Aid find creative and innovative ways to support thousands of women, children and young people each year from prevention and crisis to recovery and independence.
- Rape Crisis offers support and advice to victims of rape and sexual assault, no matter how long ago the attack was. 0808 802 99 99
- SurvivorsUK offers advice and support to male victims of rape and sexual assault. Text on 020 3322 1860.
- Women's aid protects women from domestic violence. Call their 24-hour helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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Updated on 25-Nov-2021
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