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article imageReview: ‘Promising Young Woman’ passes judgement where justice fails Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 21, 2021 in Entertainment
‘Promising Young Woman’ is as condemning as it is entertaining. The directorial debut shines a bright, unflattering and unfaltering light on rape culture.
To this day, a segment of society finds women with power problematic. More notably, they find women who take power uncouth and even frightening. A woman who seeks to level the playing field or — heaven forbid — gain the upper-hand, is a threat to the status quo and thus a threat to the patriarchy. Therefore, when a movie portrays this change in dynamics, but doesn't adhere to the way these situations have typically been portrayed, it's deemed to be lacking or false. If a woman is going to assume a position of power, it has to be in a manner that is expected and, consequently, acceptable because it was designed by men. Promising Young Woman throws all of that out the window.
Cassie (Carey Mulligan) had a promising future, until a tragic event derailed it and forced her to drop out of med school. Now, she lives at home with her parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge), works at a boutique coffee shop for her very lenient boss and friend (Laverne Cox), and spends her nights at the bar. Everyone is a bit concerned she's been unable to “move on” with her life, but she doesn't want to forget or pretend nothing happened. She's incredibly smart and wickedly cunning, and she's opted to use these gifts to right some wrongs. A chance meeting could change everything… but what that means isn't immediately clear.
In spite of how this movie was marketed, it's not a rape-revenge fantasy. In fact, one of the most refreshing aspects of the film is it doesn't visually depict a rape even though the crime is at the centre of the narrative. The picture is an expertly constructed critique of rape culture. The notion that “nice guys” are incapable of committing such heinous acts, or that being young excuses reprehensible behaviour. The idea that if a woman has too much to drink, she is, to at least some degree, responsible for her own assault. The tendency to doubt the victim because the accusations could damage the reputation of the perpetrator. The belief that by not physically participating in the act, bystanders are not complicit. The argument that the legal system is skewed against the victim. Each of the issues mentioned is strategically addressed in a manner that is impactful, as well as entertaining.
However, this is not Ms. 45 or I Spit on Your Grave — a fact some people may find challenging to accept. Not because it's not exceptionally well-executed and intelligently structured, but because it doesn't follow the brutal, reactionary path of those films’ protagonists. That's why those are fantasies and this movie is not only relatable, but cathartic. Though somewhat extreme, much of what occurs is within the scope of reality. While the conclusion may appear to edge into the realm of fantasy, it actually reflects Cassie’s acceptance of the inevitability of her actions — because in the end, it would always be a life-changing experience. Yet, more important is the discomfort that intensifies as scenes go on a little too long, giving characters the opportunity to reconsider their decisions… even when it's plain they have no intention of diverting. The repetition of this unease is deliberate as it reflects a similar persistence in our culture. Cassie is clearly putting herself in dangerous situations, but the risk is calculated, purposeful… and possibly intentional to some extent.
Writer/director Emerald Fennell’s feature debut is a powerhouse film with an unmissable message delivered with poise and a sharp wit. Everyone who participated in the making of this picture should be proud of their work. At the forefront is Mulligan, who gives Cassie an incredible sense of self and a firm grip on her own version of a reckoning. She doesn’t seek recognition for her actions and is satisfied with leaving an ever-lasting impression on which rumours are built. The actors who agreed to play her targets must also get credit and kudos for their portrayal of these familiar personalities that are typically forgiven or forgotten in these scenarios.
It seems that not everyone will immediately comprehend the power and truth of this narrative, but it’s laid out beautifully if you care to look.
Director: Emerald Fennell
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Laverne Cox and Alison Brie
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