MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Three men are at a bar making small talk when they notice a young woman sitting on a bench, obviously intoxicated and incoherent. One of the men (Adam Brody) decides to be chivalrous and drive her home. Midway, he opts to bring her up to his apartment. Once there, he starts to kiss her unresponsive mouth and drag her into his bedroom. As he begins to move towards the next step, she rises up and confronts his behavior, belittling him for trying to take advantage of her.
We soon learn that the woman’s name is Cassie (Mulligan) and she goes out most nights to seek opportunities to emasculate predatory men. During the day she works at a low-paying coffeehouse job for an understanding manager (Laverne Cox). She lives with her parents (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown) who are clearly frustrated with her lack of motivation, since at one time Cassie was near the top of her class in medical school. The film slowly reveals a past tragedy involving her best friend Nina that is responsible for her trauma and predatory behavior.
Did I mention that this film is a dark comedy?
This is the first feature film from director Emerald Fennell (who also scripted) and it is a bold and often entertaining movie, centered on a great performance from Carey Mulligan, who usually plays gentle and reserved characters (The Dig, Far from the Madding Crowd). Cassie is complex and prone to mood swings; she is also able to create a variety of characters in which to enact her revenge upon dozens of men (and she has a notebook in which to keep score).
One day Cassie is approached by Ryan (Burnham), a classmate from medical school who is now a pediatrician. He is quite smitten with Cassie and is willing to court her, in spite of her initial resistance. While their relationship develops in a relaxed and mutually satisfying way, Cassie still finds herself out on the prowl at night.
Things become more complicated when a key perpetrator of Nina’s downfall comes home to get married. This sets Carrie off on a new series of confrontations with women who she feels aided and abetted in her friend’s misfortune. Now the film veers from its initial misandrist agenda to become misanthropic.
If you can keep up with the film’s mood swings that include elements of thriller, social satire, mystery and rom-com and are willing to set aside some of the deep questions of a film with a lot of loose ends, Promising Young Woman may be a provocative discussion starter.
Unfortunately, since the film sets up so many situations that it flips in order to surprise viewers, its message gets lost en route. Promising Young Woman promises more than it can deliver.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Two halos: The film’s bold critique of rape culture gets sidelined by too many plot twists.
Four pitchforks: Pervasive strong swearing; much recreational alcohol and drug use; sexual suggestiveness throughout; scenes of violence and offscreen rape; intentional scenes of entrapment.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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