There are films that come out each year that will stay with you. More importantly, there are films that come out that start a conversation. Promising Young Woman will most definitely start a conversation because of how it addresses everyday misogyny and the treatment of women. Writer-director Emerald Fennell presented a very refreshing revenge thriller in a neat little bow. For a directorial debut to be this bold, cunning, and empowering is what impressed me the most. From the camera work, to the costume design, to the incredible soundtrack everything about this film worked together so perfectly.
The most important thing about Promising Young Woman is the structure of the film. The way the audience is introduced to Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) is quite memorable. The opening song is “Boys” from Charlie XCX and the song sets the tone for the club scene as it juxtaposes the intentions of our antagonist. How is Cassie Thomas thinking about boys? We first see Cassie totally drunk in the club and she sparks the interest of one guy from across the room. He places a bet with his friends that he could take her home. After some sweet talking, Cassie ends up leaving with him. Here’s a reminder that Cassie is completely intoxicated and she is slurring her words. This guy takes advantage of her and almost instantly Cassie snaps out of her drunken stupor. That’s when I knew that this film was going to be a wild ride!
Emerald Fennell takes the toxic narrative of men taking advantage of women and spins it on its head. In this case, Cassie Thomas becomes a guy’s worst nightmare in the best way possible. Cassie is seeking vengeance for her best friend Nina, who tragically took her own life because of an incident at University. Cassie is ruthless and continues to shame all men for their treatment of women. As this generation would say, “she puts these guys on blast” and does it in the most interesting way possible. Everything about Cassie Thomas and the way Carrie Mulligan portrays her is empowering. Her persona and her line delivery is just intoxicating. From the very first moment you watch her put a guy in his place, she has you hooked.
Now… onto that ending, which has been super controversial but in my honest opinion, it’s exactly how it should have ended. SPOILERS BELOW. DO NOT READ PAST THIS POINT. ALSO TRIGGER WARNING SEXUAL ASSAULT.
Cassie Thomas and her best friend Nina both went to the same University to become doctors. University should be a time to experience everything and more importantly to have fun. As we all know, there is a lot of partying that takes place (even more than studying) so things can get out of hand. In this case, someone by the name of Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) took complete advantage of Nina and raped her. Not only does he rape her, but the rest of his friends, including her boyfriend, Ryan (Bo Burnham) helps him and even records it. This is completely vile. The events that lead to Cassie finding out about Nina’s horrible evening, all those years ago, enrage Cassie and she wants to finish this once and for all.
Cassie finds out that Al is getting married and will have his Bachelor party. Naturally, Cassie goes to the Bachelor party as a stripper and ties Al to the bedpost. She begins interrogating him and telling him about the pain he caused Nina. As she gets on top of him to carve Nina’s name on his body (the relevance of this is stated in her brilliant monologue) Al breaks free from the handcuffs and suffocates her to death. This ending, though brutal and absolutely horrific, IS necessary. At first, you think Cassie will get out of it and break free but the longer the camera stays and her frantic movements slow down, you realize that men truly get what they want. They can literally get away with murder. So this ending was powerful, even though Cassie died.
However, this is actually the trick ending.
Later on, at the wedding, everything that Cassie set up comes to fruition. She scheduled a text message to go out to her ex-boyfriend explaining everything that she did and how the next couple of minutes will pan out. The song “Angel Of The Morning” by Juice Newton comes on and the police sirens start to wail. Cassie set everything up just in case she went missing and it was perfectly timed to arrest Al Monroe. This ending was genius. Emerald Fennell sikes us all out with a death scene that feels hopeless, only to give one last strike with a proper ending.
Promising Young Woman is a straight punch to the gut because it puts the misogyny on display. It shows the cat-calls, the sick, twisted games that men play with their buddies, and allows a woman to come out on top. The power struggle is toyed with and reversed by Cassie Thomas because her intentions are to put men in their place and give them a nice little scare. It is most definitely my favorite film of the year and it is going to start many conversations, which is the most important thing!