Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★½

i love revenge films.
i hate rapists.
i think carey mulligan is hot.
i am also presumably the target demographic for this film: i mean, the title basically describes me (i know it's an ironic play on the "promising young man" rape excuse, but what i mean is that, in the literal sense, i am young, a woman, and very driven in my aspirations).

when you add all those factors up, i really should have liked this. but, uh, well... it missed the mark.

don't get me wrong, i'm not talking about the ending. i'll tiptoe around big spoilers in saying that under better written and deserved circumstances, i usually don't mind when a film does *that thing*. it's a startling choice, but often justified by the plot. however, in this instance, it just didn't work for me. it didn't work for me, because fennell expects me to have walked away satisfied at vengeance dealt in the neat little package of carceral "justice."

at another time, in another life, that might have been enough for me. but we're beyond that feel-good lie, aren't we? aren't we all jaded by the reality of the criminal justice system? by the false heroics of cops and law courts and prison bars? we know who they really serve. we know who they actually protect. under the pristine and lovely surface, beyond the closing shot of al monroe defeatedly being carted off to jail, is the ugly truth that these men - rich, white, well-connected, college educated, and upheld as exemplars in their communities - will get the last word, off-screen.

they'll not get off fully scot-free, but, c'mon, let's not kid ourselves: they'll most certainly get parole hearings (al will claim self defense at some point and a rape apologist who practices the law will build a case for him). but what does it matter anyway? even if they (i keep saying 'they' because i'm not sure al was the only one arrested, although the film only portrays him as being carted off) do rot in prison for the rest of their lives (again, they probably won't) what sort of revenge is that? i know the film wants us to think that cassie selflessly and perfectly avenged nina, and the sad thing is, to her that was enough. the shaky prospect of legal punishment was enough for her to sacrifice literally everything, and that breaks my heart.

so many victims don't even get anything close to legal closure, and i know we're supposed to be happy that she did. but it really just feels like the bare minimum. it feels like this film wants me to praise the bare minimum. to find comfort in it. despite the heartwrenching and hopeless series of events that necessitated that result.

maybe that's why i like more traditional revenge films so much. they go beyond the bare minimum. if we're going to suspend all morals for a moment and pretend that retributive justice is the way to go, why don't we just take it all the way? stab and let wither and die! that's redeeming for me, because i don't believe in retributive justice in real life, but in the fantasy world of a film, it can be cathartic.

but i just couldn't find that here. as a queer woman of color, and an abolitionist, i just don't see redemption in the prison system. there is nothing particularly cathartic to me, either, about the police convicting a privileged, unrepentant white man of a crime and performing the whole song and dance of American Justice. American Justice is a facade, and i'm past the point of being able to find any comfort in that facade. if we're going for a fantasy, can there at least be dragons? this didn't scratch any itch for me. if anything, it just made me sad.

to summarize my point: i know this film is a criticism of rape culture. but to properly criticize rape culture, you need to criticize the legal system too!! and this hardly did that. the legal system was set up to be the hero in the end (albeit, not for the rape reason). there was hardly a critical lens pointed at the cops and the courts, who contribute perhaps the most to the systemic issues inherent in rape culture (here's just one article:

of course, there's more that i'm sour about: i hated seeing laverne cox reduced to the token Black friend role. other than the orchestral version of toxic, i actually didn't much care for the soundtrack (but whatever, you can genuinely call me a hater for that one). i think it could have been more visually interesting - nothing much stood out to me in that sense. and, well, i wanted more jennifer coolidge. you can't push jenny into a corner like that!!!

if you've even bothered to read this far, i will say that i do hope emerald fennell continues to make more films. she is obviously talented. this one had potential to be great, and clearly to a lot of people, it already is. so, good on her. it's 2.5 stars from me!

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