Cassie Thomas, played by Carey Mulligan, is a medical school dropout. We first see her slumped over in a club, apparently verging on blackout drunk, while a group of men dare each other to take advantage of her. ‘Apparently’ is the key word here, as we discover – alongside the man that takes her to his apartment to rape her – that she is in fact completely sober, and is enacting a form of vigilante justice against rapists.
The entirety of the next 113 minutes is unrelenting in its continuous exhibition of misogyny. We see example after example of self-proclaimed ‘nice guys’ who take advantage of Mulligan’s character but refuse to hold themselves accountable, even when they realise that the girl they have dragged home is in fact entirely sober and has caught them in the act. The film’s female characters don’t escape this exhibition of sexism either, as we watch a university Dean refuse to protect her female students, and a friend who neglects to step in when she witnesses a woman being assaulted. The film makes no apologies for the patriarchal system it has taken from reality and placed on the big screen.
The script almost writes itself, as we hear the familiar excuses of “But I’m a nice guy, I haven’t done anything wrong!” and “She was asking for it”. On top of this, the ambiguous setting of the film reminds us that such misogyny is far from being an issue that’s only applicable to the 21st century. The set decoration and diner aesthetic is strongly reminiscent of the 50s, but Mulligan’s character orders an Uber and uses Facebook. We deliberately aren’t aware of the specific time period we’re in because sexism exists in all eras.
Its success at the Oscars for Best Picture seems unlikely, given that the subjects of some of its competitors are arguably more acceptable for Hollywood’s still moderate tastes, and feature household names such as Frances McDormand and Anthony Hopkins. It is also nominated for Best Director for Emerald Fennell (who you might recognise as Camilla in Netflix’s The Crown) and Best Actress for Mulligan, which may be more favourable. Regardless, it has already triumphed at the BAFTAs and Critics’ Choice Awards.
Promising Young Woman is one of those films that everyone should watch, but by nature of its content some people will dismiss it or avoid it like the plague. It forces the viewer to reflect on how they are complicit and question what more they can do. Its Kill Bill-esque narrative arc of vigilante justice makes it slightly more palatable to mass audiences, but those viewers who watch it and feel uncomfortable should hopefully question why that is and begin a process of personal accountability.
You can watch Promising Young Woman on Sky Cinema.