TW: Rape, Sexual Assault
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest Network) 1 in 6 women are raped every 73 seconds in the United States of America. Misogyny, the hatred of women, is endemic to our culture and placed under the umbrella of, “boys will be boys.” This flippant attitude is so embroiled in our culture, the Brock Turners and Brett Kavanaughs of the world face slap-on-the-wrist repercussions for their crimes (if that), and their victims are dismissed. Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanuagh’s accuser, still receives death threats to this day while Kavanaugh was elected to the Supreme Court.
In 2016, following the election of Donald Trump becoming President, the #metoo movement mushroomed across social media, with millions of women coming forward to share their stories of rape and sexual assault at the hands of men who received little to no consequence for their heinous acts. Women, feeling emboldened and seen, were able to come together and demand justice for themselves.
With Promising Young Woman, director Emerald Fennell has created a film that is nothing short of a masterpiece and a reckoning. The film, produced by Margot Robbie’s studio LuckyChap Entertainment, stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie Thomas. I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the titular’s character’s perfect name. Cassie is of course the diminutive of Cassandra, the Greek goddess whose prophecies were never believed, an apt name to have for a woman demanding justice be served.
Cassie spends her days working a minimum wage job as a barista and living with her parents. She’s a true millennial. She spends her nights getting “drunk”, but actually zeroes in on “nice guys” who take advantage of her, up until the moment she reveals to them she is, in fact, 100% sober at which point, the “nice guys” suddenly become terrified after they realize that repercussions do in fact exist for them.
The film’s palette is a pastel affair, replete with ornate feminine touches this side of princess aesthetic with hints of the second act of a Tennessee Williams play. Mulligan’s nails are painted the shade of Easter eggs and her long blonde hair falls in waves. But beneath Mulligan’s beautiful edifice is grit and boiling anger at a system that fails to serve and protect women. The basis of Cassie’s vigilantism is a heinous gang rape that happened to her friend Nina while they were both in college. Cassie, fearing she could have done so much more to prevent the rape from happening, plots her revenge.
Promising Young Woman is a satisfying and deeply compelling film. The casting is deliberate and incredible. Molly Shannon plays Nina’s mother, a detail that immediately moved me to tears, given Shannon’s beloved roles on Saturday Night Live when I was coming of age. Laverne Cox stars as Cassie’s boss, while Bo Burnham plays her love interest. Other Hollywood Nice Guys, like Max Greenfield, Adam Brody, and Chris Lowell take on roles that subvert their typecasting.
What’s incredible about this film is that it’s such a solid, stunning motion picture that has no weak spots. The denouement is suspenseful and gristly, and it sets up an ending that is so perfectly conceived that I found myself jumping off of my sofa just to celebrate it.
In a few days, a new Presidential administration will be sworn into office. This administration promises to be progressive. Kamala Harris will be sworn in as the first woman Vice President. Harris believed Christine Blasey Ford and she made Brett Kavanaugh cry when she forced him to be held accountable for his actions. Perhaps Promising Young Woman and the Biden-Harris administration promises a tidal wave of reckoning for the United States’ craven culture of misogyny and rape. It’s long overdue.
Abby Sheaffer is a Columnist for Cinema in Paradise. Her past work includes being the Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Literati and The Vignette Review.