Comedy thriller leaves viewers’ jaws dropped


Caney Mulligan stars in the hit film bringing awareness to female sexual assault, especially in light of the Me Too movement.

Nathan Manion, Staff Writer

Very rarely after watching a movie, as the credits roll, do I sit with my mouth stuck wide open and ask my friend what just happened. But that is exactly what happened after watching the dark comedy, revenge thriller and directorial debut of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Women.”
This comedy thriller emerges out of the center of the “MeToo” movement to tell a story that too many women have lived. At the same time, it offers a look at the setbacks that are placed around women trying to gain traction and push this social movement forward.
The film focuses on the character of Cassandra, played by Carrey Mulligan, a medical school dropout who lives with her parents and works as a barista at a struggling coffee shop. Cassandra is drifting through life with no clear direction or motivation to improve the current situation she is in. Her one desire in life seems to be her daring nighttime activity. This usually involves her dressing up, going out and ending up “drunk” in the corner of the club. Ultimately, a guy will come along and offer to help her get home. But that initial offer of help inevitably turns into a trip to the guy’s place where he tries to take advantage of a woman clearly unable to consent. This is when Cassandra reveals her sobriety and delivers a message that makes any guy think twice the next time he goes out.
The reason she fakes insobriety to teach a lesson is slowly revealed throughout the film. The viewer ultimately learns the motivation lies with her friend Nina, and the horrible fate that she met.
The individuals responsible for Nina’s fate have gone unpunished and live a guilt-free life without thought of what happened to her – furthering Cassandra’s drive toward justice. This drive to make people feel responsible and guilty for, or at the very least sympathize with, Nina’s assault is Cassandra’s goal.
However, like everything in life, this goal is complicated with the reintroduction of Ryan, played by comedian Bo Burnham, who assumes the role of a former medical school classmate whose romantic pursuit of Cassandra draws the two into a relationship.
With Ryan back into her life, so is her past, and more importantly, the connection to Nina’s tragic destiny is thrust fully back into it as well. This leads her down a full-force revenge path with her ensuring that anyone who played any role in Nina’s assault will become aware of the consequences of their actions. Ultimately, the movie turns into a dark revenge thriller that takes an unpredicting turn but is ultimately wrapped up in a satisfying way with the last 15 minutes showing the brutal reality of the system in place to oppress women.
“Promising Young Women” is a film that succeeds on a plethora of fronts. Firstly, Carry Mulligan gives an awe-inspiring performance showing her ability to shine in the funnier moments in the film. While also being frighteningly sinister, Mulligan carries the emotional trauma her character has been through to the forefront during darker moments. But where this film really shines is in the social commentary it produces. This can be seen literally in the contrasting look and feel of different scenes. The more rom-com-like scenes are very brightly lit with a traditional feminine feel marked by a more colorful set and costume design. The heavier and more dramatic scenes tend to be darkly lit with a blander palate, offering a masculine feel. But the social commentary extends far beyond the look of the film.
If the last couple of years have taught us anything, it’s that there needs to be more awareness paid to the victims of sexual assault. This statement is put front and center by Director Emerald Fennell, as characters involved in Nina’s assault repeatedly come up with the same excuses uttered by people those characters represent in society. Fennell aims to explain how the system is set up to obstruct the justice that many of these victims are owed. But I think Fennell is trying to comment on the female side of the movement as well. Is living a life like Cassandra’s not as dark and vengeful of a path, but still wholly untrusting of men, really the healthiest way to address these injustices? And do Cassandra’s actions really bring justice or meaning to Nina? Ultimately, all these points are up for debate, and that’s what Fennell wants. She wants us to talk about these issues in an open, honest and even dark way, because that is the only way we can start to understand. “Promising Young Women” is a film meant to invoke a conversation and its ability to do that is as powerful as the images it shows on screen.