Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman ★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

Okay so….

I think this movie has a pretty base level success in its watchability. The question driving the viewer is, “What is she gonna do?” and I was engaged throughout with that question. I genuinely did not know where it was going until the end.

There are plenty of rape revenge movies. Exploitation filmmakers have known that there is nothing quite as righteous as sexual assault to get an audience to cheer on unimaginable violence on the perpetrators.

This movie is interestingly playing with that time proven formula by using the aesthetics of the prestige TV comedy. Outside of Mulligan, it’s populated entirely by comedians and sitcom stars. The lax workplace with Laverne Cox even feels like it should be a sitcom. It paradoxically has a bite to it by appearing defanged.

I would love this movie so much more if it used its comedic cast’s strengths and went for big laughs. It would be even more tonally discombobulating for an audience to have its guard down that way. As is it doesn’t really register as much because we’re used to seeing these types of actors in seriocomic Sundance fare for over two decades.

Beyond the cast, the character arc we’re following feels as prescriptive and shallow as a modern television character’s. The tragic backstory involving a best friend is reminiscent of Fleabag specifically. It feels like we’re following a woman who is on the very sitcom journey of “growing up” instead of watching a movie about a sociopath engineering elaborate traps that teach people how culpable they are in rape culture. She’s almost like a woke pussyhat Jigsaw.

Unfortunately with these formal and sociological questions on its mind, it never has the chance to feel uncontrived. Characters speak in a combination of modern talking points, graceless exposition, and the rhythm of humor without any real jokes.

The situations and reality of the movie don’t make any sense outside of the specific beats the scenes are preordained to hit. The whole business with the phone is…so unnecessary. This old phone only has a rape video on it? Why couldn’t she just find it and share it with Cassie? Why are you making me think about the logistics of this?

This extends to how apparently precise she is about the breadcrumbs leading to her murder being solved down to sending texts at the exact moment that the cops show up at the wedding. I don’t mean to be so anal about these things but when reveals involve grand plans you would like it for the plans to make any kind of sense in the reality of the movie.

The ending is audacious and I do appreciate that. Having your main character suicide by murder herself is unexpected and feels daring! That it’s all part of an expected Rube Goldberg revenge machine cheapens that shock to me. I don’t know maybe I’m a horrible cynic but it would be so much more powerful to me if it was just a gut punch without any legal comeuppance. We would know that she accomplished what she wanted but the world kept spinning for the guilty like it does irl. That’s probably a step too far in terms of seeking funding but that’s what would feel right to me.

Extremely mixed but ultimately leaning positive. The weakest of three stars possible but I like too much of what it's going for to focus on its shortcomings.

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