Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Promising Young Woman is like biting into a caramel apple but discovering far too late that someone’s replaced the apple with an onion. 

I don’t know how to look at the film as any kind of woke, feminist victory that so many others seem to see it as. I understand the conclusion being drawn about it in that regard, but god does the film bum me out. 

Take my words as just one feminist’s perspective in a sea of impressively wide ranging feminist takes on Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut. If there’s one thing PYW has done well, it’s that it’s started an almost deafening conversation. 

I want to get my big positives addressed before I dive into my beef so: PYW is very well made. It has such a fun aesthetic, in that exciting niche of “Bubblegum Fuck You” that is attempted a lot but rarely depicted well. Stylistically, it’s hard to find something not to love. The soundtrack adds an auditory accompaniment to that visual appeal that blends beautifully. And Carey Mulligan. Dear GOD, Carey Mulligan is an unbelievable tour de force. 

But, despite the outward appeal, digging into the meat of PYW left me with a lot of negatives. For starters, the opening sequence alone was so triggering that I had a panic attack. I had to step away from the watch a couple of times actually because it stirred up so much surrounding my own experiences with sexual assault. Rape-revenge fantasies are a difficult subgenre for me, it feels like playing Russian Roulette.  Sometimes I love them (Ms. 45, The Nightingale) and other times, not so much (The Last House on the Left, Teeth). There’s not necessarily rhyme or reason to that, it’s a gut reaction type of thing. And my gut here would like to know: if a movie presumably made with survivors in mind is so triggering that survivors have an extremely difficult time getting through it (or can’t get through it at all), what was the actual intention? 

That’s not to say I don’t see the intention. I do, truly! It’s a valiant effort, but there is so much here that feels faux feminist (to me). Having Cassie’s motivation be centered on Nina, a woman who is essentially minimized to the horrific things that happened to her, feels like a horrific disservice to victims. We are more than the things that happen to us. Watching a woman inflict mental trauma onto other women by making them think they, or their teenage daughter, were raped is not sweet vengeance. Ignoring the pleas of your dead best friend’s mother to move on and instead you use said dead best friend’s name as your call to arms and justification for your actions is not sweet vengeance. It all works for the argument that we are watching a deeply traumatized women try and justify her own actions instead of healing but to tout these actions around as a thrilling expression of female vengeance feels nauseating and so deeply counterproductive to the ideas of intersectional feminism. Even if we see an offering of respite through clarification for those women who are being convinced there has been a rape, that doesn’t negate the great deal of harm even remotely incorporating that narrative can cause. 

I don’t think it’ll be a surprise for me to then state that I was most definitely not a fan of the ending. I am so tired of watching women’s brutal murders be painted as a beautiful depiction of martyrdom. I’m even more so tired of watching women be brutally murdered in general. Martyrdom does not a feminist film make. Depicting in graphic, prolonged detail the death of our leading character, regardless of her clever backup plans isn’t heroic or refreshing. It’s just sad and traumatic. 

It can be argued that if you’re looking hard enough, you can see this horrific end coming. There’s a lot of symbolic positioning of Cassie throughout the film that feels subtlety reminiscent of Catholic based art, tragic yet beautiful. I know what we’re watching is an attempt for a blunt reality check, the hard fall down back to earth after floating in the cloud of a fantasy so to speak. But it’s hard to look at the end as positive in any way, no matter how many cheeky winks they throw at us to try and make things feel like it all worked out well.  

Whatever implied sense of job well done or cathartic victory we’re supposed to project onto Cassie, as we watch her killer and best friend’s rapist be led away in handcuffs, is merely that, a projection, because at the end of this film, the only thing Cassie is, is dead. 

I ask mostly rhetorically: Where the fuck is the victory in another woman being brutally murdered at the hands of an abusive man? 

Laverne Cox’s presence was my only comfort and what kept me going through the most difficult sequences. Thank you, Laverne, you are my hero ;)

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