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  4. Film Review on Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman presents the exceptional and engrossing story of a woman who enacts revenge on people who had been involved in an incident of sexual assault in previous years. The film is directed by Emerald Fennell and stars Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham as the main characters. It is no wonder that Promising Young Woman won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay: the story is shocking, suspenseful, and unfolds in a way that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats.

The film hinges around issues of responsibility, consent, feminism, but it has as its underlying root a true, deep, and supporting friendship between two young women, indeed, full of promise, Cassie and Nina. Nina, who met with an untimely and unjust end, is present throughout the movie, despite not appearing in it: she lives in the words and actions of Cassie, who will exact merciless revenge with a deep sense of justice for herself, Nina, and all those millions of women taken advantage of, disrespected and mistreated. Warning: this film is suitable for ages 16 and above due to coarse language, violence, drug use, and sexual assault.

Protagonist Cassandra Thomas spends her nights pretending to be intoxicated in order to teach a lesson to men who claim to be ‘nice guys’ but are quick to commit non-consensual sexual acts when protected by the woman’s lack of self-awareness. However, a ‘simple storyline’ like this belies the deep secrets that are slowly revealed throughout the film. As it gradually becomes clear, the reason for Cassie to behave in such a manner is the loss of her dearest friend Nina, who committed suicide after an incident of sexual assault involving male undergraduate students. In fact, Cassie and Nina were not only close friends but also university medical students, and Nina, in particular, was top of her class. As it turns out, the promising young woman of the title is not only Cassie but also, or maybe mainly, Nina herself.

The film presents rather dramatically the reality of gender inequality, its extreme consequences, and how patriarchal society oppresses women into stereotypical roles and still pushes them away from equal opportunities. Carrey Mulligan immerses herself into the world of a woman who falls behind her broken ambitions, unable to ‘move on’ from the death of her friend, holding onto a menial job well below her capabilities, and facing objectification, street harassment, and sexist comments in her everyday life. The reality is, Fennell’s construct of Cassie’s unfortunate life can be associated with many women in modern society. They are observed, stalked, and most of the time pointed out by their physical appearance.

Cassie is often seen as seemingly intoxicated, getting picked up at a bar by a guy who insists on bringing her home to ‘relax.’ As they enter his house, he lays her down on his bed and begins to unclothe her. When Cassandra suddenly reveals her soberness, the man is astonished and frightened. Cassie performs these acts due to her fondness and remembrance of Nina; it can be seen as a form of justice. Fennell focuses on two aspects here, consent and virtue. Instead of taking advantage of the woman to satisfy his bare sexual appetite, the moral act is to either help the woman or make sure that she is safe. What this film highlights is that when atrocious acts are committed towards women, there are excuses or justifications such as ‘we were both drunk,’ or ‘she was asking for it.’ It is important to educate others on what to do when they are faced with situations like these; Promising Young Woman has certainly demonstrated an effective way of spreading this useful information.

Final thoughts

Rating: 8.9

The cinematography, acting, and cast choices are astoundingly original, believable, and striking; however, the best part of this film is the extreme and unprecedented story itself. Promising Young Woman promises to become a cult movie classic.

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