Rated R, primarily because the film's core subject matter is about rape and rape survival. The film deals with the element of sexuality that doesn't feel exploitative, but it is intense. There's language and drug content. Similarly, there's violence that is very uncomfortable as a pillar of the film. It's a well-deserved R rating.
DIRECTOR: Emerald Fennell
Guys, it's one of the big ones. Even before the nominations had been announced, I knew that people were talking about Promising Young Woman. Man, you guys and the hype machine, forcing me to have unrealistic expectations about film. The thing is, one of the people I follow on Letterboxd even stated that it wasn't as amazing as people made it out to be. But that means that I'm going to be constantly backpedaling throughout this blog entry because I enjoyed it. I just didn't Academy-Award-Winning enjoy it.
Promising Young Woman might be the next great entry in the horror subgenre that was started by Get Out.s I'm a big fan of this movement. The idea that genre films don't have to be one thing is fantastic. I know that A24 has been moving parallel to the stuff that Jordan Peele introduced with Get Out. Promising Young Woman, like Get Out, centers its narrative around the idea of a message that needs to get out there. With Get Out, it was about the deceptive element of allyship and privilege. With Promising Young Woman, writer / director Emerald Fennell wanted to talk about what it means to be a woman. I was going to say "...in the 21st Century", but that's clearly not the case. It feels like I'm cheapening the whole point of the movie by tacking on "in the #metoo era", but I can't deny that the specter of the movement colors the film as a whole. Fennell is going after perhaps the most toxic element of the whole thing: the good guy. Cassie doesn't necessarily go after the most horrifying looking guy at the club. She is hunting the guy who keeps justifying his actions. He sees himself as the hero who is the better alternative to the violent rapist. But it is this character that continually justifies the evils that he inflicts.
I also love how Fennell doesn't just go after the "I'm a good guys" of the film and the clear evildoers of the film. But she also really makes a point to stress that anyone-who-is-not-for-us is against us. With this, I kind of want to look at Alison Brie's Madison. Madison is gross. But Madison is realistic gross. That probably makes her worse. Heck, everyone in this movie is a bit realistic gross. But Madison is a woman who has the same vulnerabilities as Nina did. She is this charismatic attractive woman who is in a male-dominated field. She is popular and understands that her social status is what has made her life possible. So when Nina is raped, Madison sees the world as this binary choice. She could defend Nina and lose the power that she has over men or she could attack Nina and cement her standing in the group of male colleagues that have allowed her to succeed where others have failed. And it isn't an active choice for Madison. She emotionally distances herself from the victim because that's who she is. It gives her culpability, which makes her downfall all the more satisfying.
But there is something really sadistic about Cassie's forms of revenge. It's odd because sometimes I'm not exactly sure what the actual revenge is and I don't know why that makes it all the more troubling. Cassie's entire revenge against Neil, safely one of the most insufferable characters in the story, is quiet humiliation. When we see Adam Brody's Jerry react to Cassie's instant sobriety, we don't know what happened to him. My brain instantly flashed to horrific murder or castration or something of the sort. His name being penned in a Lilliputian notebook, the scribblings of a madwoman, implies horrors upon horrors were inflicted upon him. But we see the whole ballet with Neil. And Neil's entire revenge was based around shame for what he had done. There was nothing physical. Heck, it almost feels like vigilante justice rather than a horror trope because Cassie's goal is to scare him straight. There's not even confirmation that anyone else would ever find out about his misdeeds.
But her revenge on Al is personal. We know that it is a new level of hate and rage when it comes to Ryan and Al. Al makes sense. He's the Bill from Kill Bill. Everything that she has done has led to getting Al in her sights. So when Al is kidnapped, we know that there has to be a physical element. But even with that sequence, Fennell doesn't really give us specifics of what will happen to Al because Al kills Cassie before we have the details of the revenge. It's almost more haunting to think that Cassie doesn't have to touch anyone to completely destroy them. And it makes Cassie the villain that we root for. I can't help but make immediate connections with the OG Friday the 13th. The reason that we applaud Mrs. Voorhies is that she's systematically destroying those people who wronged her. The sequels just had Jason loosely attack anyone who has succumbed to the mildest vice, but the original movie made a lot more sense. Cassie allows her targets to do the right thing. The horrifying element comes from the fact that they never, ever do. They keep making the same stupid choices over and over.
That's kind of telling. Yes, I get that Promising Young Woman is a work of fiction. But it also is a work of fiction based on a very concrete reality that men excuse their sexual choices based on a culture that allows that behavior to go unpunished. If this was really happening, I can't state for certain that every night that Cassie gets picked up in her faux drunken stupor that someone wouldn't take advantage of her every night. But she gives them the chance to do the right thing and everyone fails to do it. I know that there is a demographic out there that says "Not all men", but the story clearly implies that there are enough awful human beings that we can't applaud those who don't rape Cassie. It's troubling.
But all that being said, I have to talk about the quality of the film. I keep making these comparison's to Jordan Peele's Get Out. I really rallied for Get Out to get the Academy Award. It was clearly a genre piece, but it was also an expertly crafted genre piece that defined a time period in cinema. It was brilliant. Yeah, it was also fun, but Peele put his soul into that movie. While I love Promising Young Woman as a genre tale, I don't see the transcendence that Get Out provided. Emerald Fennell is up for best director and Promising Young Woman is simply directed traditionally. It's A-to-B storytelling. The shots in the movie are phenomenally safe and unchallenging. The script, for as much as I liked it, could use some tweaking. It's kind of like looking at Juno versus Jennifer's Body. Juno was this next-level script that worked really well because it was coupled with Jason Reitman's sense of direction and aesthetics. Jennifer's Body was written by the same author, Diablo Cody, but doesn't really have the nuance that Juno did because of the direction. The message in Jennifer's Body, which really does remind me of Promising Young Woman, is fantastic. It's just that the product doesn't hold the same weight as it should.
But at the end of the day, I really dug this movie. I didn't really discuss the Ryan plot twist because I saw it coming and it really spoke for itself. This is a great movie that should be watched free of the shadow of the Academy Awards.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.