“Promising Young Woman”: A punch in the abdomen that is well worth seeing

“Promising Young Woman”
A punch in the abdomen that is worth seeing

Not as helpless as this sight suggests: Cary Mulligan in “Promising Young Woman”.

© © Focus Features

With “Promising Young Woman” starts a film that pulls the morally safe ground from under the feet of some moviegoers.

It’s been almost four months since Emerald Fennell (35) won the “Best Original Screenplay” trophy for “Promising Young Woman” at this year’s Oscars. Until then, the British had made a name for herself primarily as an actress, for example as a young version of Duchess Camilla in the Netflix series “The Crown”. Her acclaimed directorial debut is finally coming to local cinemas on August 19th and gives the audience not only an outstanding Carey Mulligan (36), but also a lot to think about.

Easy loot? It’s all about this

Every week Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas goes to a bar or club on her own. Every week she gets drunk uninhibited and a little later crouches almost unconscious in a corner. And every week a nice guy comes to see her to make sure it’s all right – and to tow her away. But here’s the thing: The supposedly easy prey is in reality stone sober and has just been waiting for someone to take advantage of their obviously defenseless position.

There is a tragic reason why Cassie finds herself in this risky situation time and time again. Her best friend Nina was raped in an equally defenseless state and has never been able to overcome the resulting trauma. Even more: she was publicly portrayed as a slut, while the perpetrator made a career and can still enjoy the highest reputation to this day. Like Nina, however, Cassie dropped her medical degree after the incident in order to take care of her childhood friend – with consequences. She went from the “Promising Young Woman” – the promising young woman and budding doctor – to a quirky loner who works in a café and still lives with her parents. And gave the “nice guys” a lesson week after week.

The slightly different revenge thriller

In terms of film history, there are exactly two gaits in revenge stories with a few exceptions. Male protagonists like “John Wick” turn their retaliatory campaign into action fireworks. Female characters, on the other hand, have to torment themselves primarily through (sometimes highly problematic) exploitation films with a horror element, such as in “I Spit On Your Grave” or “The Last House On The Left”.

“Promising Young Woman” takes a different approach. Cassie “doesn’t throw on a dress and grabs an AK-47” to get revenge, like director Fennell in conversation with the “Los Angeles Times” explained. It was important to her that her petite main character did not try to use armed force to tip the balance of power on her side. The protagonist also does not suddenly have supernatural powers due to her irrepressible thirst for revenge. Atypical for the genre, “Promising Young Woman” is located in a realistic setting with this trick. This gives the scenes in which Cassie confronts her nocturnal, mostly much burly companion, an oppressive tension. And a finale that you won’t get out of your head anytime soon.

The unique selling point of “Promising Young Woman” is different. Because with one exception, Cassie is quite ready to forgive. For example, in a short but memorable scene with actor Alfred Molina (68), which impressively reveals the inner conflict between the two characters. In addition, Cassie gives the “nice guys” the chance to turn out to be really nice guys several times during the evening of the party. At least until she can see without a doubt that this is not the case and she has to make another line in her notebook.

I’m one of the good guys. Or?

“Promising Young Woman” makes itself vulnerable at first glance because it depicts male figures, with hardly one exception, as toxic predators. But that’s just because of the basic premise of the film, in which a woman deliberately fakes a situation that attracts such specimens. The film does not show a knight in shimmering armor who puts Cassie in a taxi with a 50 dollar bill, which she then drives to her own front door to sober up.

To underline this point, male actors were deliberately hired, who usually play the charm bolt or the innocent lamb – “OC, California” star Adam Brody (41), for example, or comedy actor Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse (32) . Yes, this portrayal may offend some male viewers. But maybe that’s a good thing. As well as the fact that Emerald Fennell outlines how other women can be part of the slutshaming issue.


The way leading actress Carey Mulligan swirls through this difficult subject is simply outstanding. It may be idle, but: If Frances McDormand (64) hadn’t been her rival for the golden boy as “Best Actress” at the 93rd Academy Awards, Mulligan would probably have been allowed to hold her acceptance speech alongside Fennell. She definitely deserved it. Especially since, and this cannot be emphasized enough, despite the severity of the content, she manages to bring humor into her role. In stark contrast to this is the relentless end of the film. There is absolutely nothing to laugh about – but there is a lot to digest.