Some have called Promising Young Woman a revenge film, but that description seems too simplistic for a story that unpacks layers upon layers of trauma, grief, rage, sadness, thwarted ambition, and a real desire to heal despite all of it. The truth is, there’s never been a movie quite like it. Like a handsome stranger who smiles across the bar, Emerald Fennell’s feature directorial debut lures you in with gorgeous aesthetics and snappy song cues, concealing the rotten core within. It’s a visceral, vicious, but oh-so-delicious look at the forces that suppress women’s potential, leaving us tap-dancing on a balance beam suspended hundreds of miles in the air, hoping we’ll be able to reach the other side unscathed. But what if we just took the plunge?
That’s precisely what the film’s titular woman, Cassie (Carey Mulligan), does after a traumatic event forces her out of medical school despite her brilliant prospects. Now 30, her days are spent working in an Instagram-worthy coffee shop, where she mostly ignores the customers, reads a book, and wiles away the hours. But at night, Cassie comes alive with a twisted purpose. She puts on a full face of makeup, the shortest skirt she can find, and heads to a bar, where she pretends to be too drunk to stand until a man offers to take her home. If he makes a move while believing her to be incapacitated, she confronts him, her jarring sobriety more powerful than any physical altercation.
Promising Young Woman sits atop a foundation of longstanding tropes, some of which are so ingrained that we no longer even think to question them. Fennell plays with genre conventions and tropes to destabilize the audience, dismantling cultural archetypes before our very eyes, so that by the very end, the whole thing comes crashing down.
This companion viewing guide unpacks some of the movie’s most striking elements — and yes, that includes the “Stars Are Blind” scene.
Warning: This story contains mild spoilers for Promising Young Woman, available on VOD January 15.