Winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the BAFTA for Best British Film, ‘Promising Young Women’ presents a dazzling feature debut from Emerald Fennell. Sporting a vital message to society, it’s mainstream appeal is its biggest weakness as well as its greatest strength.
The film tells the story of Cassie Thomas, a young woman whose friend was a rape victim who received no legal or societal help. After dropping out of medical college, Cassie has now taken it upon herself to exact revenge on the male misogynists who prey on drunk girls. After falling back into contact with an old friend from college, events will transpire that expose the gross negligence of her peers, and how far she is willing to go to restore her friend’s legacy.
The central premise of this film is clearly a hugely important one, and one that cannot be addressed fast enough. Recent allegations against Noel Clarke are simply the latest high-profile case of sexual abuse, but are barely the tip of the iceberg. The film deals with issues that are daily occurrences for women across the world, and plainly points out that the ‘innocent bystanders’ are not in fact innocent until they fight for what’s right.
Carey Mulligan portrays Cassie with total ease and it’s clear why she was Oscar-Nominated. As an actor, Mulligan has consistently chosen projects that push and challenge her, and once again she has shone. Her performance is powerful and universal as she exacts her carefully plotted revenge on the men that have abused her and others for so long. Supporting roles from Bo Burnham, Alison Brie and Jennifer Coolidge (among many others) all add a great dynamic to this fantastically assembled cast.
The film, directed by Emerald Fennell, feels incredibly empowered while never feeling forced or hamfisted, though that’s not surprising when you consider Fennell was the show-runner for ‘Killing Eve’ in its second season. It’s clear that she has a knack for writing strong female characters, and it’s understandable why she won Best Original Screenplay for the her dialogue-heavy script.
However, it’s not all necessarily good…
It cannot be denied that this film doesn’t feel like your usual ‘Oscar Worthy’ film. It feels very much like this year’s equivalent to ‘Black Panther’, nominated mainly for its cultural significance rather than for its filmmaking qualities. The cinematography is pretty flat, the musical score does very little to enhance the drama, and the core story suffers from clumsy plotting and a very flimsy finale. And yet, this all means that it will appeal to a much wider audience.
This is a film that will satisfy all movie-goers. It’s not going to cause controversy or provoke any backlash to its themes, but moreover, it’s an incredibly accessible film that is simple and effective. It’s story, while cliché, is not complicated or difficult to follow, and this means that it won’t suffer the same issues that some other Oscar Winners will suffer from. Parasite, while one of the greatest films ever made, will not be seen by a lot of mainstream audiences because it’s in Korean. This film won’t suffer from a lack of audience, and by making it so accessible to the mainstream, it’s ensuring that as many people as possible will see, share and stand up for its message.
‘Promising Young Woman’ is not a perfect film by any stretch. Though it struggles from some fundamental filmmaking flaws, it is an undoubtedly strong debut from Emerald Fennell, and boasts as important a message as you can get. If you’re a bystander, you’re part of the problem. Don’t stand for it anymore.