This is a black and white image of the back of a blonde woman with messy long hair looking towards an indistinguishable path which looks a lot like the back of Cassie in "Promising Young Woman".
Camilla Plener

Promising Young Woman is banal and it’s annoying.

Ever since the #MeToo movement went viral in 2017 many people reflected on their past sexual encounters, learned about consent, and decided to be better people—or at least that’s what we would all like to believe. It’s all anyone can wish for when consent isn’t necessarily a canon topic in sexual education everywhere. It’s probably also, the thought behind Promising Young Woman a 2020 thriller comedy that attempts to address the issue of sexual misdemeanors and it’s reception by the public.

I wanted to like the film but it left me a bit unsettled. To be honest, it’s not an enjoyable watch at all and actually, it feels more like a waste of time — but I guess, not entirely because of the lessons behind it. Still, Promising Young Woman has a convoluted and stiff narrative.

The film is written and directed by Emerald Fennell, the same writer who arguably, softened the Killing Eve storyline after taking over from writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Fennell turned Killing Eve from a sharp, hard hitting cat and mouse adventure, to a sappy story about a dysfunctional agent who falls in love with the criminal she’s meant to capture. Similarly, Promising Young Woman has all the awkward and shallow elements of Killing Eve, along with a muddled storyline and a messy main character called Cassie (Carey Mulligan).

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Cassie is a mean, miserable person, who happens to work at a nice café. A med-school dropout who lives at home with her parents, she is unnecessarily cold and uninviting to everyone. She apparently has no friends except for her co-worker Gail (Laverne Cox) who doubles as her boss, and even towards her, she seems to mostly feel ambivalence.

Cassie’s melancholy lifestyle is all a result of a great loss she experienced during her college years after her life-long friend Nina Fischer was sexually assaulted. Al Monroe (Chris Lowell), a popular college classmate, attacked Nina at a college party with spectators at witness to everything. Worse, there was video evidence spread around to humiliate her and no one except Cassie was willing to help her with her recovery.

The thing is, Cassie didn’t go to the party with Nina so, to atone for what she believed was a failing, every week, she’d pretend to be drunk, wait for a “nice guy” to try and “help her out,” (code for sexual assault), and then she’d suddenly jolt into sobriety and chastise them.

The lessons and symbolism in Promising Young Woman are hard to miss. Cassie represents the people who are affected by sexual assault, and the way one horrific event can derail the lives of victims and those around them. The predators and by-standers are unmoved by Nina’s suffering, similar to how the public responds to sexual politics. Even still, the film is disappointing.

Promising Young Woman is banal and it’s annoying. It would be fine and good if the trailer for the movie didn’t sell this story to be about a woman who rebels against predators in an aggressive (maybe punishing) manner, but instead, all she seems to do is put herself in danger while attempting to make these predators slightly uncomfortable for a little bit once they realize in horror that she’s sober.

Their offense is disturbing and yet Cassie’s response is even more confounding. It’s also misleading because her inaction isn’t immediately obvious and it forces viewers to anticipate what she will do to these predators only to find out that the answer is nothing. After a while of teasing that she will do something to these men, somewhere along the line when she eventually comes in contact with another predator, but she simply talks to him.

“I’m not the only one who does this. And some of the other girls, they really are crazy,” she announces. “There is a woman in this city that carries a pair of scissors … Try it out, next time you go out, see what happens.” Wheh?

What is the point of Cassie putting herself in dangerous situations, scenarios where she really could be over powered and sexually assaulted, just so she can ask these assailants, “what are you doing?” It’s dull and it’s not funny.

Besides this already reckless behaviour, after hitting her 30th year and deciding to date Ryan (Bo Burnham), an old school mate who is in contact with the Monroe crew, she seems to become unhinged and thirsty to avenge Nina. And so, throughout the movie, she does a lot of things that are dangerous like this (probably touching on how unscathed men usually are from accusations) and so nothing happens to her — almost.

First, she starts with her old school mate Madison (Alison Brie), who minimized and distanced herself from Nina after rumors spread to ruin her reputation. Cassie got her drunk during the day then hired someone to make it look as though she’d been assaulted, then proceeded to ignore her messages to really drum in Nina’s experience. Then, she basically kidnapped the daughter of the dean of her college. Next, she attempted to threaten a lawyer that intimidated Nina into dropping a suit against Monroe and in the end none of those things get her in trouble. She even gets Madison to feel bad enough to give her video evidence of Nina’s assault with a simple message, “Never f****** contact me again.” That’s it. Apart from that slight reprove, she walks free.

What did do her in was when she tried a similar tactic with Al Monroe at his bachelor party. She basically goes there to die because not surprisingly, Monroe attacks her. The big gotcha moment for Cassie is getting Monroe and his best friend Joe (Max Greenfield) on her murder charges.

It’s so ridiculous. Did Cassie really have to die for them to be held accountable? What’s the message here? That the only way to get a sexual predator arrested is to kill yourself in the process? Funny.

Probably the only saving grace of Promising Young Woman, apart from Max Greenfield’s funny facial expressions, and his failed attempt to escape police, was the reminder of the existence of Paris Hilton’s song Stars Are Blind (that song is a banger). Apart from that, the entire film was corny. Again, what was the point? Where was the thrill?

I guess this is one of those films that people can use to laugh about and say “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Or, people can argue that it’s a satire and commentary on the brutal process of getting accountability for victims. You can even say, it was an experimental film, twisting our ideas of how these difficult stories can be addressed with traditional feminine aesthetics. All of these claims can be true but also true, is that the film is lousy.

The writing is boring and uninspired, Cassie is one-dimensional and extremely negligent, while the other characters are bland and ordinary. Worse, the comedy is barely there and when it’s present, lacking. Nearly every part about the film is frustrating, even with its appealing colour schemes. So just watch something else.

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