3.5 out 5 stars
In this social media era, the world of ‘he said/she said’ conversations have taken a very different turn. Media accounts are full of people utilising images and video to enact revenge on those who have done them wrong. What used to be confined to behind closed doors and whispered amongst small groups is now displayed worldwide. It takes the whole topic of date rape to an entirely new level of discussion and devastation. Especially for those involved or those who merely witness these horrific acts and do nothing.
Promising Young Woman delves into this world by tearing back the curtain of discretion and seeing what happens if the tables are turned on these crimes' perpetrators. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was an aspiring young doctor who was traumatised by the events that impacted her best friend, Nina. The medical student drops out of medical school and plans to avenge her friend while working at a local coffee shop. Cassie goes out each week to a local club and pretends to be blackout drunk until an unsuspecting ‘nice guy’ decides to take her home. While these men try to take advantage of her, she comes out of her fake stupor and has her revenge.
One day at the cafe, Ryan (Bo Burnham) walks in and recognises Cassandra as his former classmate. This leads to awkward tension between them, but the paediatric surgeon eventually convinces the barista to go on a date. As their relationship begins to grow, she discovers that he still keeps in contact with their former group of med students. Eventually, she finds out that Nina’s former rapist, Al (Chris Lowell), was back in town and about to marry the woman of most men’s dreams. This insider knowledge leads Cassie to plan her vengeance on him and those who were instrumental in the crimes against her closest friend.
Many might recognise writer and director Emerald Fennell as the actress who plays Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown or Patsy Mount in Call the Midwife. Her debut directing role proves to be unlike the majority of her acting roles, but this new director proves she has talents behind the camera, too. The British actress manages to bring together a phenomenal cast for her first film. Then delivers a twisted tale that will cause uncomfortable laughter in the cinema while making your skin crawl at the same time.
Stories of revenge and the damaged femme fatale are not new to cinema. Still, the new director offers up a fresh spin on this familiar trope. Once the audience believes they know what is going on behind closed doors, everything changes. These subtle reveals provide a brilliant style while gradually humanising the protagonist. Carey Mulligan sits back in this character and delivers one of the year's most convincing performances as a lead actress. She walks that fine line between apparent madness and utter vulnerability with a convincingly disconcerting gracefulness.
Her portrayal of calculated reprisal is only as good as the writing that supports her and the supporting cast that provides fresh material with each act. Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge and Bo Burnham are perfectly cast to keep the humour and drama moving forward. Fennell manages to balance comedy, romance, and revenge while drawing us into her story with timely twists. It provides audiences with an entertaining and confronting lesson in the vicious nature of date rape, showing us the ripple effect that these crimes have on those involved and everyone in their relational orbit.
[Promising Young Woman contains disturbing images pertaining to date rape. Also, the film does contain mature language and violence]
Reel Dialogue: Is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin?
What is presented as a tale of revenge, turns into a discussion on the application of forgiveness. Emerald Fennell’s script confronts this idea by looking at the relationships of those impacted by these heinous crimes. As the story unfolds, the central character proves that she is merely looking for people’s willingness to admit they were wrong. This begs the question, how far is too far when it comes to forgiving those who hurt the ones we love.
Interestingly, this is at the heart of the message of the Bible, too. Not just the question of forgiveness within society, but more importantly, between God and mankind. Regardless of what we have done against God or others, the God of the Bible is willing to forgive. Setting free those who are eager to seek his forgiveness. Words that are uncomfortable to confront, but a topic that is critical for people to consider for the sake of moving on with life.
“What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27