More about: Promising Young Woman
Do you recognise yourself here and if not: why are you lying?
I feel worst for the female university students who will have to endure Promising Young Woman being explained to them at parties by men who missed what the film was telling them. Despite this unfortunate by-product, the depth of meaning created by the beautifully-stylised look of the film is the perfect, pastel pink vehicle for a mirror of realism that asks men and women: do you recognise yourself here and if not: why are you lying? Here’s the opinion of a cishet nice guy, and why, for once, that opinion might actually be one of the most important.
While 'Boys' by Charli XCX blares, irony drips from the thrusting chino crotches that form the opening shots of Promising Young Woman, a film that wastes no time setting its tone by following this up with all three opening lines being ‘Fuck her.’ Actor, writer, producer, director quadruple threat, Emerald Fennell, admits she’s “not subtle” when it comes to imagery (in reference to an early phallic hotdog). But, by using such big symbols she forces us to expect one thing before sucker punching us with another: the truth. She masterfully cherry-picks tropes from revenge thriller, horror, drama, as well as giving us a perfect self contained rom-com, all to keep the audience on a string before dunking them in the cold water of reality.
Just like the soundtrack, Fennell’s use of colour is both obvious and subtle, simultaneously making the film stunning to watch and drawing the battle lines of main character Cassie’s journey. Fennell uses the stereotypical, ‘gender reveal’ pink and blue in particular; where Cassie’s home is mostly a pink safe haven, almost all the world outside and, of course, the men in it are soaked in blue.
Alison Brie’s Madison makes every effort to project what she thinks men want to see: a ‘good girl.’ Therefore she must appear all in white, the traditional colour of purity, virginity, meekness. Meanwhile, stark splashes of red appear around Cassie when that defiant pink boils over into righteous fury.
The cast conspire brilliantly to deliver these messages, with Brie’s and other perfect cameos from Chris Mintz-Plasse, a lovely Laverne Cox, Emerald Fennell herself and Jennifer Coolidge as Cassie’s mum. Coolidge no doubt pointed out by many as Stifler’s Mom, a character that epitomises mainstream cinema’s treatment of women for decades. She doesn’t get a name until the end of American Pie 2.
If these great performances are the bones of the film, Carey Mulligan is definitely the spine - and skull and brain in the skull…. she’s really good. Her voice work and physicality deliver Cassie’s subtle shifts in power and anchors a stylised film in the reality of watching a real young woman, broken from a trauma that happens every single day. Mulligan and Promising Young Woman are worth every inch of its Original Screenplay Oscar and if not for the aching beauty of Nomadland, could have easily added Actress, Director and Picture to its haul.
Fennell lampoons so many nice guy clichés it’s impossible to not recognise some of them in ourselves and others. This is where the true horror of the film comes in. It proves that normal, ‘good’ people do bad things, do them every day and do every kind of mental gymnastic to not think about it again. Promising Young Woman has been accused of not being feminist enough, of pulling its punches but those criticisms miss the point. In the biggest irony of all, this film is actually aimed at men; just like American Pie and all those films with disembodied female legs and bosoms splayed across their posters.
The real power of this film is not in preaching to the converted: it’s in opening the eyes of those people furiously typing YeAh bUt nOt aLL meN; the eyes of those people reading this and laughing at the not-all-men idiots, thinking they’re not complicit; the eyes of those people who stay silent, who ignore; the eyes of the person writing this right now. Have you ever said nothing as friends wound down a window to catcall a woman? Have you ever thrown a plate at a wall in an argument? Have you ever stopped to really think about, actually try and comprehend, the fact that every single woman you know will have experienced some form of sexual harassment or worse? We have nothing to fear from women and we should never forgive ourselves.
I could write about Promising Young Woman forever, but I think that’s enough mansplaining for one day.
More about: Promising Young Woman