Review: ‘Promising Young Woman’

Posted 2/26/21

Carey Mulligan is remarkable in “Promising Young Woman,” a dark, elaborate revenge film that explores the pain and tragedy of sexual abuse.

Cassie (Mulligan) and Nina were childhood …

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Review: ‘Promising Young Woman’

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Carey Mulligan is remarkable in “Promising Young Woman,” a dark, elaborate revenge film that explores the pain and tragedy of sexual abuse.

Cassie (Mulligan) and Nina were childhood friends. They were classmates in medical school and both mysteriously dropped out.

Cassie now works in a coffee shop run by Gail (Laverne Cox) and lives at home with her parents, Susan and Stanley (Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown). For her 30th birthday, they give her a suitcase, a less than subtle hint for her to move out.

Almost every night, she puts on a lot of makeup, dresses provocatively, and goes out to a club pretending to be drunk. Every time a guy tries to take advantage of the situation and takes her back to his apartment, he is uncomfortably confronted and surprised. She keeps score in a small notebook.

She meets a former classmate and now pediatric surgeon, Ryan (Bo Burnham). They bond through sarcastic humor. Her parents love him. “If I wanted a guy, and a kid, and a yoga class, and a job, and a house in the suburbs my mom could brag about, I’d have done that already.”

Ryan inadvertently triggers traumatic memories of Cassie’s from medical school. Cassie has lunch with Madison (Alison Brie), another former classmate. Cassie recounts Nina being sexually assaulted in front of witnesses who stood on and did nothing. When Nina came to her friends, no one believed her and Cassie talks about the guilt she carries that Madison doesn’t.

Madison wakes up in a hotel room with a strange man with no recollection of what happened. Cassie lets her know that she was set up and nothing really happened.

Cassie expresses interest in resuming her medical school education. She tells Dean Walker (Connie Britton) that she left because of what happened to Nina Fisher, who was assaulted by a student named Al Monroe in front of his friends and later took her own life. Dean Walker has no recollection.

She tracks down the lawyer who is on sabbatical (Alfred Molina), after what he called an “epiphany,” and what his colleagues called a psychotic breakdown. His job was to comb through accusing women’s backgrounds and find something to undermine their cases, whether it’s a photo of them drunk or ex-boyfriends.

Cassie also reconnects with Nina’s mother (Molly Shannon), who begs her to let go of the guilt she has for not being there for her friend. Her last act of vengeance is against Al (Chris Lowell) and infiltrates his bachelor party.

There are amazing plot twists.

The film never loses sight of the devastating and lingering impact of assault to the victim and their loved ones. It is about both processing grief and getting even. It is complex, passionate and riveting.

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