Promising Young Woman
Updated: Apr 10, 2022
Trigger Warning: mention of sexual assault, suicide, and violence.
Promising Young Woman follows Cassie who on the surface works in a coffee shop and is seemingly normal but behind that mask lives a double life: one where she pretends to be drunk in the hope of catching out "nice" men who have different intentions than to keep her safe. Cassie's double life began following the suicide of her best friend Nina Fisher after being sexually assaulted in college. A series of events leads to Cassie seeking revenge on all those involved in what happened to Nina but Cassie is not going to stop on her quest to get justice for Nina, whatever that takes.
Promising Young Woman is the first film I've watched in a long time that was perfect in every way. Despite the film coming out in 2020, I have only just got around to watching it due to the heavy nature and topics the film centres itself around.
From the opening scene, I knew that this film was going to stir up some opinions. The clever dialogue from the very start already utilises everyday encounters that women face with Cassie being slut shamed for being too drunk however the men upon the stage could also be said to be too drunk but is anyone talking about them? nope. I thought this was a cleverly written scene that highlighted how people tend to have more of an opinion on women and their safety than they do, the things that create the said unsafe environment.
It wasn't just the dialogue of Promising Young Woman that resulted in me scoring it a perfect 10/10 but also the cinematography. All of the scenes within the coffee shop had an almost white angelic glow to them, which I would like to think was put in to symbolise the cafe as being a place where Cassie felt safe, compared to the low-key lighting in other scenes. Similarly, the mise en scene especially in Cassie's parent's home exemplified the fact that she was 30 and still living at home, something which is a sore point for the parents of this Promising Young Woman.
The house gave the illusion of being a dollhouse and this was just emphasised Cassie's pastel-coloured sweaters and interesting dresses, highlighting her femininity. However, upon leaving her home, Cassie was dressed in some alternative clothes that perfectly captured the alternative roles she would be playing.
At first, she is the best femme fatale but when more information is shared on why Cassie dabbles in this other life, viewers see her reasoning and in some sick way agree with her. Throughout the film, we learn more about what happened to Nina and the things that led to her death, which makes for some pretty badass scenes, but it is when Cassie reunites with Ryan that these plots of revenge escalate.
A chance encounter at the coffee shop where Cassie works leads to Ryan (a former classmate of Cassie's) asking her on a date. Ryan reveals he is still in touch with a lot of the people from Forest Medical School, where Cassie dropped out after Nina's assault. Ryan mentions a name that is familiar to Cassie but for all the wrong reasons: Al, the man who raped her best friend and the one who was still living a full life despite being responsible for ending one.
His mention of Al consumes Cassie and she begins putting revenge into practice. First on her list is Madison who failed to believe Nina and continued when questioned by Cassie to slut and victim blame. Madison isn’t a particularly likeable character but even I was left questioning Cassie when she got Madison drunk and left her in the hands of a man she had hired. It later transpired that Madison didn’t come to harm but in an act of justice, Cassie tortured Madison with the idea that she had. This storyline although cruel shone a light on slut and victim-blaming which was the catalyst for more cunning acts that would encourage passive behaviour in the wake of sexual assault to be questioned.
The second target, Elizabeth Walker, the dean of Forest Medical School. Cassie fakes being a makeup artist to lure Elizabeth's daughter into her car, of course, she’s not going to harm her but you best believe she’s going to make Elizabeth think she did. The dean failed to take the case seriously and even forgot who Nina was before being prompted by Cassie which led to Elizabeth praising the success of Al. Elizabeth explained that she didn’t want to ruin a man's life despite having numerous witness statements, she explained that Nina was drunk which unfortunately is a sad reality of the victim-blaming I mentioned earlier. Cassie so calmly reveals that she has dropped Elizabeth's daughter off at the same place Nina was raped. This was a really emotive scene as Cassie didn’t even bat an eyelid even when Elizabeth was screaming at her. Her composure was somewhat haunting suggesting to viewers she had finally received the reaction and urgency that Elizabeth should have had when hearing of Nina's case. Cassie finally reveals the truth but leaves Elizabeth with a very raw reminder that it took that perspective to get her to act accordingly, leaving viewers with the reminder that it can happen to anyone’s daughter, friend or person.
Cassie's revenge plot didn't stop there as she then met with the lawyer who bullied Nina into dropping her case. Tempted by money, Jordan's whole career has been based upon proving the guilty to be very much innocent. His past has caught up with him and ultimately he is consumed with guilt, promising that he would do anything to help. This specific scene played on the justice system and how corrupt it can be specifically within cases of rape and sexual assault. The conversation between Cassie and Jordan pretty much advocated for a complete reform and investigation into real life court proceedings.
Cassie leaves Jordan satisfied that his time will come and sure enough it does just not in the way viewers expected. After a busy few days teaching people their lesson, Cassie went back to seeking revenge on potential predators but this time is caught in the act by Ryan. Due to her developing feelings for Ryan, she makes a promise to herself and Ninas mother who begs her to move on and eventually tries her hardest to do so.
Cassie apologises to Madison who turns up at her door frantically seeking an answer about what happened following their catch up but Madison has some news of her own: she has a tape from that heartbreaking night. Plot twist? Ryan was present on the night of Nina's sexual assault. She confronts him and ends their relationship, rightly so, however, viewers couldn't help but feel heartbroken for Cassie. The clever writing of the show is something that led to me giving it a full ten stars and it was particularly its creation of Ryan and his relationship with Cassie that led to this. After what seems like a catalogue of seedy men, it is refreshing to see Ryan as the nice guy and he sucks us all in including Cassie which is why it is so heartbreaking. He epitomised what viewers think a good guy looks like and the depiction of his characters fall from grace just highlights the very real question: what does a good guy look like exactly? It highlights that everyone is capable of sexual assault or in Ryan's case an acting participant in letting it happen.
In one final attempt to get justice for Nina, Cassie makes an appearance at Al's bachelor party. After drugging the other guys and convincing Al to take part in a private dance, we finally think Al is going to get his revenge but no, Cassie ends up dead however did you really think she would die without getting justice?
I was so upset by Cassie's death and was ready to rate the film 2 stars as I thought they were going to kill Cassie and let the guys off, playing into a horrible but very real narrative and rendering the purpose of the whole film pointless. However, the film did not let me down! Cassie knew that she could potentially be murdered so she made sure in the event of her death that the lawyer , who previously bullied Nina into dropping her case, received the tape given to Cassie by Madison. Not only that, she provided an address to where her body would be and sure enough, the police turned up and arrested Al at his own wedding, very Cassie style. Oh and Ryan? Well, he got a scheduled text that was enough to leave him looking pale and losing his job.
Ultimately I cannot say one bad word about Promising Young Woman, yes I was gutted when Cassie died but realistically she was consumed with Nina's death and felt even more betrayed when her wall finally came down. She could not cope without Nina and so she did everything to get justice which eventually cost her life, I thought the film was very cleverly written with some particularly emotive quotes that stuck with me after watching it. I thoroughly enjoyed the subtle hints towards how common rape culture and sexual harassment is, as seen through the construction workers whistling at Cassie and many other scenes.
It is a film that perfectly captures what it is like to be a woman and what it is to live within a society that continues to victim shame, lack proper justice and protect those who others need to be protected from. Everything about Promising Young Woman was perfect resulting in a perfect score of 10/10!