Promising Young Woman is perhaps one of the more divisive films of this awards season. Some audiences love the ending of the film, whereas others claim it ruins the entire film. I initially stood somewhere in the middle, but the more I think about it, the more I agree with the latter perspective. And when I think about it even more, I realize that the film as a whole might not be as effective as it hopes to be. The film addresses rape culture, and how the skepticism and victim shaming that come along with it affect not only the victim but also the victim’s loved ones. The film has been marketed as a revenge thriller, but it fails to deliver any real, satisfying sense of justice to its protagonist.
The lead character, Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan, is a young woman who is haunted by a traumatic event that led her to drop out of med school. Formerly at the top of her class, she now works at a coffee shop and frequents bars and nightclubs where she can be found completely wasted, struggling to sit up and form coherent sentences. Each time this happens, without fail, a man offers to take care of her and her home, but they always end up at his apartment where he tries to take advantage of her intoxicated state. However, each time, she reveals she is stone-cold sober and confronts the man about his behavior. Then, once she gets the guy to kind of admit what he did was wrong, she leaves. And this whole plan doesn’t even work. One of the first guys that Cassie confronts is named Jerry. Later in the film, she is scooped up by a man in a fedora, who says, “You’re that girl Jerry was talking about!” when he finds out she is sober. Let’s break that down: Cassie forces Jerry to see the error of his ways, who tells his friend in the fedora about his experience, and the friend in the fedora goes on to do exactly what put Jerry in his situation and fully believes he can get away with it.
Cassie does genuinely make some people feel really bad, and she does so them by employing pretty twisted methods. And then there’s the highly polarizing conclusion to the film. I don’t want to spoil the film, but I will say that the writer/producer/director, Emerald Fennell, described the ending as “realistic.” But this “realism” is unsatisfying as the main instigator of Cassie’s grief may see some sort of consequences, but he never directly admits and recognizes his wrongdoing. As an audience member, I’m unsure what to take away as the message of the film, nor can I find a particularly encouraging message. I don’t believe that Cassie saw any justice or received any closure for her past, and the “realistic” tone to the film was pretty disheartening.
Promising Young Woman is available to rent on Prime Video, Apple TV, VUDU, Google Play, and Fandango Now.