Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

what is Promising Young Woman? is it a dark comedy? a brutal thriller? a touching drama? or just somewhere in the mix? Emerald Fennell doesn’t put it in a defining box — and the brilliance of that reveals itself in the many ways it subverts expectations of where the story is expected to go. it also mirrors the mess of an emotional confusion that sexual assault survivors tend to feel; whether to be sad, vengeful, apathetic, or even wry in the face of one’s trauma. 

and Carey Mulligan’s revealing performance takes us through the full rollercoaster of emotions as she struggles to deal with her guilt and trauma. she’s absolutely astonishing in the role, maybe the best i’ve ever seen her (though her quiet and introspective performance in Wildlife is still something i think about every other day). it makes for a fun, suspenseful, poignant, and timely story of how victims of abuse are treated in a world that’s constructed to appease the (mostly male) perpetrators.

but this brilliance also, quite ironically, butchers the film’s ending, consequently undercutting everything Fennell spent the past two hours building. mild spoiler alert: Promising Young Woman’s ending sees the victim(s) getting justice, but it never really lends them the victory. Fennell kills off her lead to denote the futility of the current system, so why tease a victory when those deserving of it aren’t there to bask in it? 

and i understand that there’s something to be said about how it mirrors real life; how victims of sexual assault only truly get a partial win. but Promising Young Woman doesn’t end with a partial win, it ends with a slightly-redeemed loss. Fennell flounders in her attempt to give back control to a character who loses her agency with barely a fight. it’s bitter and dissatisfying; and like sugar cubes doused with water, it dissolves the power of the rest of the movie.

so now i’m mad. Promising Young Woman rules hard, with a killer soundtrack, a rich and deeply layered performance from Carey Mulligan, and even a cute, lovable Bo Burnham. but all of that is attached to a final ten minutes that’s cold, rushed, and unfair to the characters it’s asked us to sympathize with. what do i do with all of that now?

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