I say this without hyperbole and knowing full well how ridiculous it might sound: Promising Young Woman is the best film of 2020. I mean it, no joke. It’s truly wonderful and really exciting how cool it is. Bo Burnham and Carey Mulligan sing Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” loudly in a pharmacy.
Emerald Fennell’s wildly unsettling film opens on Charlie XCX’s “Boys,” the 2017 song with a corresponding video that featured shredded and shirtless men with abs for days. While that video is sincere, Promising Young Woman offers no man candy to be found. Instead a bunch of sweaty dudes hogging a dance floor at a club, blissfully unaware of how obnoxious they are. Jerry (Adam Brody) is chatting with dudes at a bar when they notice an absolutely wasted Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan). She’s shuffling around in an attempt to find her phone and having trouble forming words. Brody offers to take her home, but when they wind up at his apartment instead and he begins to take advantage of her drunken state he gets a nasty shock. You see, Cassie is stone-cold sober and is out to give every man with that attitude a rude awakening.
We are then introduced to the rest of her life. She dropped out of medical school after an incident involving her friend, Nina (who is never seen onscreen). She’s battling crippling depression. She’s working at a coffee shop that is threatening to fire her just so she’ll make some positive moves. Her parents got her a suitcase for Christmas. Listen, she’s having a really horrid rough patch.
The rest of the cast is the stuff of miracles. We’re treated to…*ahem*:
- Connie Britton
- Alfred Molina
- Christopher Mintz-Plasse
- Clancy Brown
- Jennifer Coolidge
- Alison Brie
- Bo Burnham
- Molly Shannon
- Max Greenfield
- Chris Lowell
- Emerald Fennell, the director herself, as a woman doing a YouTube makeup tutorial on “how to do blowjob lips”
The entire runtime of Fennell’s debut film is a sharp look at the victim shaming culture surrounding rape accusations, the privilege granted to men that engage in these behaviors, and how much fallout those actions can have. It’s violently upsetting, the stylish design of the film visually invoking how depression can feel and the damage it can do to your future. Cassie is a big character, one meant to stand in for women everywhere that have ever had to suffer at the hands of people thinking they’re entitled to sex or that think being drunk is a permission slip.
And that’s where Promising Young Woman is going to lose a lot of you. It’s a film about rape culture and how it can damage not only those that have been a victim, but also how damaging that can be to people around them. The issue is that the film is also absolutely hilarious and even adorable at times. The entire time this revenge plot is carrying on we’ve also got Cassie getting to know Doctor Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), a handsome and charming guy that is under the impression he’s the leading man in a rom-com. Something feels uncanny about having these two films put together, but that’s the point. Life continues for the victims of these circumstances, whether any action is taken for justice or not. Cassie has a life outside of her pain and she tries to live it. Whether or not that works out for her…well, you’ll have to watch the film to decide.
I urge many of you to stay away from this one. It’s triggering, takes a brutally hilarious look at rape and male privilege, and it’s an adorable rom-com all at the same time. This is a phenomenal film with a performance from Carey Mulligan (a performer I adore deeply) that is absolutely incredible. I’ve used a lot of hyperbole and talked a lot of gender politics today, but that’s a headspace necessary for going into Promising Young Woman. It’s a film I think can only be described as “fucked up,” and I think it’s perfect.
Oh, and if you decide to give this a shot I need to warn you…there’s like three or four moments that still might push you to turn it off. It’s so upsetting, and the last 45 minutes had me going through pretty much every emotion.