Director: Emerald Fennell
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie
Laverne Cox, Chris Lowell, Max Greenfield, Jennifer Coolidge
Is it possible that I’m too old to think that Promising Young Woman is a masterpiece? After all, it’s in your younger years that your taste is cemented, when you’re blown away by new experiences, when you’re open to be impressed upon by art and singing its praises. Music, movies, it doesn’t matter; what we fall in love with when we’re young stays with us for a lifetime, and there’s no real comparison to that high. That’s why I think younger critics seem to be the ones who adore this film, because it surprises them and affects them, but perhaps in a way that I simply can’t be shocked and moved. Or perhaps its simply that I thought there were some serious issues of poor taste, perhaps that has nothing to do with age, since it’s not like 37 is ancient. I’m not sure, but I do know this; my critics group voted PYW best of the year, and I just disagree.
Cassie was once an up-and-coming young doctor, moving her way through med school, with her whole future ahead of her. Then, at a party, her best friend was assaulted, and while C wasn’t there herself, the crime ruined both their careers, knocked them both off track, and, sadly, then turned deadly. Since then, Cassie has stayed safe in her daily life; working at a coffee shop, living at home with her parents, not dating anyone. But come night it’s a different story, and Cassie is a different woman. She has made it her mission to become bait for men who would take advantage and assault, predators looking for the drunk girl who can’t make the clear decision. But when things get more personal, Cassie finds herself spiraling out of control, and on a path toward her own destruction.
I do think that’s at least one of the reasons why this film didn’t resonate with me as it seems to with others; they are younger and more ready to be shocked by audacity and fervor. I think about The Life of David Gale, which I watched as a teenager, was mesmerized by, but then watched as an adult and was like, oh wait, they tricked me, this isn’t good. Promising Young Woman may look that way in the future to a lot of people, a film that made a mark and seemed novel but doesn’t re-watch the same when you’re a parent as when you’re in college. I don’t mean to be ageist, I love that movies speak to youth, that’s where my favorites came from, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m just trying to make sense of why I feel like I can notice the problems with this film while others label it as a masterpiece.
The first thing that stands out is Carey Mulligan, who some are saying in Best Actress hands down. That simply isn’t true, this isn’t even one of her best performances, it’s just that her character is so shocking that it comes off as perfection, when really it’s much more mediocre than that. You want her at her best, try Never Let Me Go, a stellar role and film that everyone ought to see. She hides her accent poorly in Promising Young Woman, which makes her lines feel stunted and forced, which I guess isn’t her fault but is a natural consequence. Other than Mulligan, the acting is terrific, even hilarious, from all the assholes she meets to her parents, who are played perfectly. Meanwhile, the music, color, and mood are being applauded, but that’s juvenile as well, obviously directed by an amateur who isn’t quite there yet. And then there’s the theme in general, which I thought was in poor taste, and many victims of assault who watched this film feel the same way; it’s a yikes representation of a serious topic, one that shouldn’t be taken as lightly and absurdly as this movie takes it. I tried to convince myself to watch through a different lens than my own, tried to see what others were seeing, but that really didn’t help; Promising Young Woman simply isn’t a great film. It’s interesting, it’s daring, it’s funny, but ultimately it isn’t wrapped up well as a singular package, it’s more a flurry of fury trying to speak when it’s too angry to do so, which makes the result something difficult to give full credit.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆