Promising Young Woman is the first film we watched in 2021. It was a great kickoff to what we hope are many more great films, but we have notes for reviewers. Spoilers ahead.
I start first with this excerpt from Vulture’s review of it:
“But Cassie’s romance also sets Promising Young Woman up for a big finish that has to contend with the complicated question it’s been skirting all along — one of reconciliation versus retribution, and whether there’s any benefit to holding fast to rage forever, no matter how warranted. It’s a question that’s impossible to answer broadly, but the specific conclusion for which the movie opts is both profoundly upsetting and apparently intended to provoke applause. Fennell’s film is a vibrant, stylistically precise piece of work, but the sentiments it conveys don’t feel examined. It’s an acceleration off a cliff when what you’d really like to see is some kind of road forward, no matter how rough.”
I will admit that Cassie’s death turned the “dark comedy” into an unexpected, horrific allegory of some sort. But it was not undermined by this. In fact, I argue it was what had been promised throughout the whole film. I did see a “road forward,” actually, by Cassie’s forgiveness of Alfred Molina’s lawyer character. She granted him a way to set his wrongs right and he immediately asked for her forgiveness. You don’t see that a lot in stories like these. It was the kind of forgiveness I had hoped BoJack would be allowed in the Netflix series BoJack Horseman, but that show’s end left me a bit unsatisfied in terms of seeing justice or forgiveness for him. Not that Promising Young Woman is at all comforting, but it offers something a bit stronger.
– It is of course true that some do not heal from trauma. And do recognize the kind of trauma I mean–the trauma of losing a best friend. This film is not just about Cassie seeking revenge. It is about her dealing with her grief.
– Cassie is missing her other half, represented by half the friendship locket. She will never be whole again until her own body, wearing Nina’s half, is found.
– Cassie is sometimes framed as a saint-like figure in the film, righteous in her crusade. We see her as if she has a halo here, for example:
But these are red herrings. They distract from the Christ-like poses elsewhere that were at first lost on me:
– All of the sugar-coated colors and the amusing soundtrack are distractions from the ultimate sacrifice she is willing to make.
– Her love for her friend perhaps turns her into her friend, thus why she wears Nina’s half of the locket when she is murdered. Perhaps similar to a theme in Alias Grace, the dead possesses her to enact revenge. Cassie is a willing vessel for that revenge because she misses her friend so much and it is all she has left of her.
– Allison Willmore’s Vulture review says Cassie’s death/willingness to die is like “an acceleration off a cliff when what you’d really like to see is some kind of road forward, no matter how rough.” This made me wonder if Thelma & Louise had similar critiques back in the day when they drove off a literal cliff instead of continuing to live in the male dominated world that would never be home to them. What Thelma & Louise did to the buddy road film, Promising Young Woman might do to the dark comedy–or whatever genre it is that I haven’t pinned down yet. Throughout the whole film I thought there was going to be more gore and horror. Like this video essay breaks down, I also see Cassie as a single combination of the Whore and Madonna:
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