In A Promising Young Woman, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is still living with her parents, and works at a coffee shop though once she was the most promising student in medical school. She has no partner, and only one friend: her manager at the coffee shop who thinks she’s wasting her life. Once a week she gets dressed up, goes to a club, and preys on creeps who believe she is drunk and vulnerable. Each reacts with terror as her calm sobriety is revealed at the point he initiates sex with his “victim”.
As the film and Cassie’s mission of vengeance develop, we meet a series of archetypes.
The University Dean who shows more empathy for perpetrators than victims: “I mean, what would you have me do? Ruin a young man’s life every time we get an accusation like this?”
The anti-feminist woman, with no sense of solidarity: “And, statistically, feminists are more likely to do anal. That’s a literal fact, by the way... You know, when it comes down to it, all guys want the same thing... A good girl.”
And creeps, oh so many creeps.
The Director (Emerald Fennell) makes some fantastic choices: the femme colour palette, all bubble gum and pastels and girl pop soundtrack, subverting the association of girly with unserious. Some very smart camera work similarly dissects the male gaze.
Still, it’s a difficult film to watch. This is a rape revenge film without the catharsis of the neat revenge. The only violence that happens on camera is unbearably long. It can’t quite settle into a tone and is worse for it. It tries so hard to subvert expectations, sometimes it feels like there are plot twists for the sake of it. The ending feels like a compromise between Director and Studio. For all the neon pinks and sparkly scrunchies, it is a dark and bleak film.
Cassie is the personification of the grief and rage at a world that protects men and sees women as disposable. Even the men you think are allies are not, and even modest and overdue justice will only be achieved via the destruction of women.