Film Review: “Promising Young Woman” (2020)

Credit: Focus Features

Rating: 5 out of 5.

How many times do you hear stories of rape and domestic violence committed against women? Sometimes it is too much to handle. The documentary “Roll Red Roll” about the Steubenville High School rape case is one of the examples that happens every day around the world. But what happens next is even worse, as all the young men are sent home hoping they can correct their behavior. However, they cannot undo the damage they caused to their victims. And that’s something the justice system seems unable to comprehend.

Cassandra Thomas (played by the always brilliant Carey Mulligan) is a promising young woman. Despite her dropping was out of med school years ago, she still has all the opportunities to finish her education and become a doctor. In fact, she was one of the best. However, her present time is occupied by an agenda much more important and deeply disturbing at the same time – the young woman is on the quest to avenge every single man that wants to take advantage of women in bars. But her biggest mission is yet to come – the mission that will prove again, in a world of men, the game that’s played must be tough, harsh and to the point. But to make a point, she has to go far and beyond to bring justice to those that no longer have a voice to speak.

Cassandra, every week, goes out to a bar and pretend to be drunk. As she plays her part perfectly, the men fall for her trap, hoping that they can get another one night stand from a woman that can barely stand on her feet. What they don’t know is that the surprising outcome of their endeavor is about to come with a life-changing lesson that will shock them to the core. Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, “The Promising Young Woman” offers an exquisite opening scene in which a bunch of men in suits talk about women using the ‘F’ word all the time. When they look back, they find Cassie sitting on a big couch, with legs spread, looking almost like lost and heavily drunk.

Jerry, the bravest of them all, found an excellent opportunity to use his chance. As he offers Cassandra a ride, minutes later in a cab, he offers her to come to his apartment for another glass of beer (like she hadn’t had enough already). She agrees. As they go up, Jerry wastes no time as he begins to make advances on the drunk woman who can’t understand what’s going on. As she’s seconds away from passing out, Jerry accelerates his attempts to kiss her without getting consent. “What are you doing”, Cassie keeps asking while Jerry begins to undress her. It was the moment, as he goes down, Cassandra stands on the bed, gets up and looks at him, but this time as a complete sober woman. “What are you doing, I am asking,” she said and it came as quite a shock not only for Jerry but for the audience too.

The film opens up about Cassie’s traumatic past that involved her best friend’s heartbreaking experience in college when she was repeatedly raped by a fellow student, Al Monroe, right in front of his cheering friends while Nina was drunk and had no idea what was going on. When the woman finds out that the man is back in town, she prepares a big play to avenge the death of her friend. As she gets closer to her target, she dates a doctor named Ryan, who happened to study in the same med school as Cassie did. As the story unfolds, what will matter the most is this promising young woman, her past, her present and the future, as she defines each path for herself in a very extreme way.

One of the most interesting and eye-popping scenes involves Dean Walker (Connie Britton) and Cassie. The dialogue they have cannot be missed by all means. “None of us wants to admit when we’ve made ourselves vulnerable, when we’ve made our choice and those choices, those mistakes can be so damaging and really regrettable,” Walker says to defend her position back then when she disregarded Nina Fisher’s complaint about AL Monroe. “I mean,” Walker continues, “would you have me ruin a young man’s life every time we get an accusation like this?” Because, as the woman claims, she must give the man the benefit of doubt while the woman accusing Al Monroe was disregarded completely. However, after Cassie’s trick with Walker’s daughter, Casey tells her in return, “I guess it feels different when it’s someone you love.”

“Promising Young Woman” is an exceptional film that will trigger lots of discussions, especially its shocking ending that won’t please many. However, as you dive deep into Cassie’s mind and watch it as many times as I did, you’ll find the conclusion to be as logical as it could get, despite its brutality. But it’s well written, superbly acted by Mulligan, and one of the most exceptionally made pieces in the dark and uncertain year of 2020. It is chilling, funny and intelligent. Yet, it brings up the most painful subject that rarely was told in such manner – violence against women.

Certain lines are heart-wrenching. But like life itself, nothing is easy in “Promising Young Woman”, especially for a truck driver whose car will be smashed by a woman when he thinks he can abuse with words and get away with it. Yes, the strength of Cassie is the key in the film. Sadly, most victims of sexual assault in real life can’t find it due to the severe trauma caused by their abuser. And, if you happen to have such a pass, I would highly recommend staying away from this film, as it may hurt you even more.

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