Promising Young Woman is almost a horror movie- or its a horror movie posing as tragi-comedy; its a curious mash-up that works very well. It’s hamstrung by a plot that forces a few too many coincidences and unconvincing plot twists but on the whole its quite good. The central performance of Carey Mulligan is fine enough to forgive the film’s stumbles, on the whole, even though I fear she’s possibly a little too old or maybe too perfect- I don’t know, there’s something a little ‘off’, but again, that’s possibly less Mulligan and more the scripts contrivances, that leaves the film feeling less ‘real’ and more wish-fulfilment female power fantasy.
The central premise is that our Promising Young Woman (there’s actually two of them, but one is already dead when the film starts, mourned and obsessed over by the other) Cassandra (Mulligan) is fully aware that all men are bastards but remains open to being convinced otherwise (albeit always disappointed). Well, all these bastards must pay, and Cassandra’s the girl to cash them in, like some feminist American Psycho. She frequents nightclubs late at night pretending to be so drunk she’s almost about to pass out, a sure-fire target for predatory males to lure home and take advantage of (well okay, rape) – the males of course are in for a shock when she ‘sobers up’ instantly whilst they are up to no good, and while she doesn’t physically harm them (at least as far as we see) she does ensure that they are aware of the errors of their ways.
The film is basically a revenge flick and a reckoning for men who see women as just sexual objects – Cassandra’s ire being from her best friend, Nina (the other Promising Young Woman) who was gang-raped whilst blind drunk when at college whose rapists (male students) went unpunished, the shame and injustice/guilt of it all driving Nina to suicide. So when the perpetrators of that said assault cross paths with Cassandra by almost random coincidence a chain of events is set in motion, an almost deliriously far-fetched rape-revenge saga that is saved by a pretty amazing (‘did they just do that’?) twist that totally saves the film.
Some women will feel empowered, some men will feel distinctly uncomfortable, which is possibly the point of the film. I was annoyed by the plot contrivances, really, some of which felt cheap and lazy, frankly. But its not a bad film by any means, again, saved by some of the performances. I just get bugged sometimes- its fine I suppose at showing some people at their very worst, but ironically like many American films, when its showing people at their very best, it fails to be really convincing in how they act, how they relate, speak and verbalise their thoughts. A few times watching this film I asked myself ‘do people really talk like that?’ and scenes just failed to convince. Which I suppose is doubly black regards this film as dark satire, in that I can readily believe in the bad guys but not the good. What does that say?