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One of the most important movements of this generation is “Me Too,” or #MeToo. It has taken down serial predators like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and R. Kelly. As a result, women are finally able to redefine what consent means and what qualifies as rape – things that have been inaccurately controlled and defined by men since the beginning of time. So, what happens when the #MeToo movement gets introduced to horror films? We get “Promising Young Woman.” “Promising Young Woman” was written and directed by Emerald Fennell, best known for her work on “The Crown” and “Killing Eve.” The buzz surrounding this film was immense. Overall, the first set of critics reviews were promising, no pun intended. “Promising Young Woman” also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Finally, the film was released for streaming on HBO Max, and I jumped at the opportunity to watch it.
Plot and Casting
Promising Young Woman is about medical school dropout Cassie, played by Carey Mulligan. After a traumatic event involving her best friend, she leaves school and withdraws from everything. She now works at a coffee shop and has a semi-friendship with her boss, Gail. The signs of her PTSD and grief become clearer throughout the film. She begins preying on men who take advantage of drunk women. Her parents are worried about how withdrawn she has become. She even forgets her own birthday. Cassie is happy to keep her life as it is: stagnant. She begins to form a relationship with a former classmate Ryan, and it seems like she’s turning her life around for the better. She slowly begins the healing process that previously seemed impossible. Unfortunately, one flashback turns her life back into a tailspin. As a result, Cassie begins to plan the ultimate scheme to avenge her best friend.
The film’s cast was excellent. It was a great tactic to cast mostly comedy actors, especially considering the dark subject matter. Promising Young Woman stars standup comedian Bo Burnham, Sam Richardson from “We’re the Millers,” Jennifer Coolidge from “Legally Blonde,” and Max Greenfield from “New Girl.” There’s even a cameo from Christopher Mintz-Plasse, best known as Fogell/McLovin from “Superbad.” Adding comedic actors with almost zero comedic scenes gave the actors an opportunity to show their range. I also loved how brightly colored everything was. Cassie was often dressed in bright colors and floral prints. Imagine a cutesy, “girl-next-door” aesthetic. The locations where she felt safe, home and work, were also brightly lit and colorful. Her home, most notably, was coral pink and white. The pastel-colored wig and nurse costume at the end? It was *chef’s kiss* perfection. The next paragraph does delve more into the plot [SPOILER ALERT].
There was a lot of disappointment regarding the plot. The trailer gives the impression that Cassie is a man-eater, torturing, or even murdering predatory men. A true feminist liberation story, right? Wrong. She does not torture any of them. Just slightly frightens them and leaves them to rape another day. She tallies in her notebook how many men she has accosted, which leaves the viewer – after finding out she doesn’t actually harm anyone – to ask “why?” She creates an elaborate plan to exact revenge on the group that raped her best friend. Do they get the comeuppance they deserve? Well, technically, but it is nowhere near what should have happened. The ending was extremely tame, given the subject matter. Even “American Horror Story” had a better rape/revenge plot in “Coven.” In conclusion, if this woman was so “promising,” why didn’t she make better choices?
“Promising Young Woman” left me with a lot of questions. For starters, what is she paying these henchmen to do? The film never really explored any of it in depth. Where is she getting money for henchmen if she works in a coffee shop? Was the bachelor party conclusion really her initial plan? It seemed half-baked and extremely risky. Is a possible jail sentence the proper revenge for a rich white male who has already proven to have access to a ruthless legal team? The pieces of the film that were supposed to be outrageous were grounded in reality – didn’t we all see the plot twist with the boyfriend coming? Also, the scenes that should have been more realistic were the most far-fetched. While “Promising Young Woman” was entertaining for the first three-quarters of its runtime, unfortunately the conclusion left too many unfinished storylines on the table.
Overall, “Promising Young Woman” was underwhelming. While the idea was great, the execution left a lot to be desired. A film that is similar in subject matter but excellently done is “Hard Candy” (2005). “Hard Candy” stars Elliot Page as a pre-teen vigilante, Hayley. She finds cruel ways to inflict psychological torture on a child predator, played by Patrick Wilson, whom she meets in a chatroom. “Hard Candy” dares to make you uncomfortable. It is disturbing, but there is also a bit of satisfaction when a girl is taking autonomy back by any means. “Promising Young Woman” seems to shy away from really getting into the grit and gore needed to be successful. It is a predictable film, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It could have used a more experienced horror writer. I still recommend the film. However, for a truly unsettling story, “Hard Candy” is the better choice.