In the world today, sexual assault, though increasingly at the forefront of social discourse, remains persistent. More, cases tend to favor the male argument over that of the female, or in other cases the accused over the accuser beyond gender. Many stories have been written and told about their permanence in the lives of victims. None have been like the new film from Focus Features, Promising Young Woman.
The black comedy thriller stars Carey Mulligan as 30 year-old Cassie Thomas. Cassie has quit med school to work in a coffee shop. On her weekends, though, she spends her time luring in sexual predators by feigning intoxication, only to accost them when the moment of assault begins. Her complacent day job and chillingly toxic night life are not sourceless, as the revelations slowly surface on what has been motivating Cassie.
During her time in med school, Cassie’s close friend Nina Fisher is brutally sexually assaulted by med student Al Monroe and a group of male students. Too drunk to remember the incident, Fisher’s tale is all too known by university and global communities around the world. Cassie’s newfound mission in life is to seek justice for the wrongdoings that led to Nina’s ultimate psychological downfall.
Promising Young Woman, simply put, is a revenge fantasy for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Writer and Director Emerald Fennell balances humor, horror, and drama in a stylish way while never over exploiting the subject matter or trivializing real victims of harassment. She further commentates on politics of gender and the perceptions of victims’ peers.
This comes most prominently from Cassie’s interactions with the Dean of her med school, Elizabeth Walker (Connie Britton) and possible love interest Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham). The former, when Cassie poses the question if she remembers Nina and her case with successful graduate Al. Walker initially admits her failure to remember, only to be blackmailed by Cassie into remembering the truth. She, like many others, claims she has to give the boy the benefit of the doubt in order to avoid ruining a life. What she fails to consider, is that regardless of the outcome a young woman’s life was instantly damaged, and in this case, ruined.
With the latter, Cassie soon finds revelations in her relationship with Ryan that too inform her of the general public’s traditional attitudes towards cases of sexual assault and specifically violence against women. It’s a harrowing, but very real mentality that persists.
The film gives its lead an ample platform to expose universal issues that exist today. With a layered, often hilarious and inspiring performance from Carrey Mulligan as the lead, Walker is able to utilize her talent to drive the vehicle with a focused vision. That mission is pulled off tenfold, featuring enough surprises, twists, and moments of humor to weave together a film that should’ve had its fair stay in theaters around the world.
That said, Promising Young Woman is the first must watch at home release of the new year. It is available to rent on various streaming platforms.