It’s hauntingly real, and that’s a problem.
The myth about nice guys is wrong: it’s the “loose girls like that” who inevitably finish last. Promising Young Woman slips so effortlessly from dark comedy into horror that its unsettling effect is ever more striking by how sugarcoated with charm lead Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is. That’s Cassie’s superpower, to disrupt our expectations – and prove that “nice guys” really don’t exist.
Writer-director Emerald Fennell, who also produced the film with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment, marks her impressive directorial debut with Promising. The film captivated critics at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival before its Christmas Day release. Costarring Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, and Laverne Cox – plus a slew of famously nice guy actors like Adam Brody, Max Greenfield, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse – Promising proves we really can’t judge someone by their so-called sloppy (and presumed slutty) exterior.
Thirty-year-old med school dropout Cassie works at a coffee shop by day and trolls for unassuming men by night. Every weekend, she pretends to be too drunk to stand at a local bar, only to stumble into the arms of a “well-meaning” gentleman who graciously offers to take her back to her house…oh wait, nevermined, it’s easier just to go to his.
Through different outfits, hairstyles, and makeup tricks, patron saint of vengenance Cassie snags a variety of self-important men who find that discussing the hardships of masculinity while quoting David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster” an aphrodisiac. A Cindy Sherman for the nightclub scene, Cassie projects what her targets want to see, all before holding up a mirror to reflect their attempts at assault.
Promising‘s rape culture revenge story is elevated by stunning cinematography, Mulligan’s intoxicatingly raw performance, and snappy soundtrack that packs a punch akin to Birds of Prey’s flashy bubblegum-popping good time. That is, until Cassie finds herself entangled with a past acquaintance, and is forced to come to terms with why she gave up her “promising” career years prior.
Cassie’s raw determination against patriarchal assumptions blazes more forcefully than token Christmas Day blockbuster Wonder Woman’s golden lasso ever could. Need we look any further than Cassie for our 2020 feminist icon?
Promising leaves us asking whose fault it is that promising young women’s careers – and lives – are shattered by date rape. But the real question is, whose fault are we comfortable admitting? From complicit taxi drivers to bartenders, Promising spotlights a culture that can’t question what it doesn’t want to see. Thankfully, this film makes it hard to look away.
“Promising Young Woman” is in theaters December 25.