Promising Young Woman (2020)

Promising Young Woman is the debut feature, written and directed by Emerald Fennell. And it is a film that will surely not leave anyone indifferent to seeing it, especially in this era, where the plot takes on a really deep and critical sense of today’s society, the role of women and their liberation, which is what we are experiencing now (is anyone in doubt?). And sure we have moved on from “A Doll’s House” (1879), Henrik Ibsen’s play that portrayed the beginnings of discord between the archetypal personalities of men and women, the latter relegated to a childish state of companionship that, through the realization that the relationship between both parties was no less than unjust, derived in the departure, the liberation of the feminine spirit and a step into the unknown, towards a freedom without spaces to live it within the classic social structure of the time. Well, but why did I start talking about Ibsen if we’re supposed to be talking about Promising Young Woman, I understand, look, the thing is that I feel that this film portrays this very thing I just said, this freedom without spaces to live it, because I feel that, deep down, the story portrays a reality in which women cannot be who they want to be, because of the amount of sexual predators that abound around them. The Nora Helmers of the world (the main character of A Doll’s House) who cannot be doctors (this is the profession that the protagonist of Promising Young Woman studied) because a lot of men abuse them and drive them to suicide, who keep the protagonist of the film locked up in her parents’ house, because of the fear that has stuck to her skin and the probable consequences of all this, that is what this story is about.

But, what is the movie about? Is it recommended to watch it with your boyfriend/girlfriend? Let’s take it one step at a time. The film is about Cassandra, a woman who dropped out of medical school after losing her best friend, who committed suicide after being abused by a group of classmates. The main character’s objective is to take justice into her own hands, to get revenge on all the people involved in the matter, in an attempt to clarify the facts before the public, since she will not let those involved have a happy life after having caused the death of her friend. Now, the forms that the protagonist occupies are really interesting, because what at first may seem or sound like an excessively violent film, in fact, this is what the first sequence insinuates and then mocks, really takes on a completely different tone. The point is that the film moves on the borderline between what is legally possible and what is illegal, in an effort to keep the plot anchored to reality and the possibilities of a female character who is not particularly strong physically, but has to act in intelligent and planning ways to achieve her goals. Now, some people will tell me that I’m being sexist by saying that women don’t have strength, but… I didn’t say that, what I’m saying is that the story is built that way, the main character is a thin, short woman, she accepts it herself in one of the most interesting scenes of the film (the part where a behavior from her new boyfriend repeats itself, a behavior that alerts about who this person really is). The thing is that I feel that the film shows that it is not necessary to have physical strength to achieve goals in life, what is really needed is the courage to face problems.

Okay, now for the second question, is it advisable to watch this movie with your partner? This point is more delicate I feel… one thing we have to keep in mind, especially for the male audience, is that the film is extremely critical in this respect. Let’s say that men are left out of the story, in fact, there is no man in the film that is saved from moral scrutiny. During the first part of the film, even before the middle point of the story (the middle point of the story is usually when the main character finds what she was looking for) we meet a series of archetypes of sexual predators that the main character attracts to her in order to confront them and make them understand that what they are doing is wrong. This is the way she tries to face these emotions that she has not been able to release. Now, these representations of men can hurt the sensitivity of more than one member of the audience. I say this because they are portraits that we would not want to be real, but they are probably very close to reality. All these men who seek sexual satisfaction at any price, who use certain techniques to gain the woman’s trust, to make her drop her guard, with the simple objective of having sex. But the film has a position on this and I think it’s a very logical position, the problem is not the game of seduction, the problem is not respecting the limits that women impose on the subject. If the woman says she wants to go home, if the woman says she doesn’t want to do anything, this is a limit that sexual predators seem not to be able to understand and that, described in the film, is the genesis of sexual abuse. I say this because the protagonist of the film maintains the desire to form a relationship with a man, despite what has happened to her friend. Perhaps she does this because her parents are pressuring her to leave the house, because that is the expectation of others, because she doesn’t have money to live alone, we don’t know. But it is this desire that finally leads her to make the most risky decision in the film, after suffering a huge disappointment. So, as you can see, it is a film that can generate more than a little noise in couples and I feel that it is something that has to happen, because it is better to live in truth than in illusions, isn’t it?

Well, that’s what I can say about Promising Young Woman, a film with an interesting and controversial plot that is worth watching and reflecting on. In cinematic terms, I feel that it has a dramatic problem. In the beginning, a type of story is put together, a woman who attracts sexual predators to stop them, which is then left behind in pursuit of another type of narrative, the same woman plans and executes a plan to get revenge on the people involved in her friend’s death. The protagonist goes from one type of plan to another without any explanation and the transition scene looks more like a joke than anything else (the scene where the protagonist’s new boyfriend finds her with another man). Apart from that, I think the story has a lot in its favor, especially being the director’s first film. The protagonist’s journey, the way her emotions are released and the climax of her revenge are all outstanding aspects of the narrative, which remains on the edge of legality and completely anchored to reality until the end.

The good stuff:

  • The protagonist’s journey and Carey Mulligan’s performance.
  • The film’s climax, merciless but real.

The bad:

  • Some problems in the plot.

In short, watch it or die!

5 thoughts on “Promising Young Woman (2020)

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