Review: How “Promising Young Woman” calls out society’s view on rape culture


Courtesy of Focus Features

Sofia Mongillo

Released in the U.S. on Jan 25, director Emerald Fennell’s dark comedy thriller “Promising Young Woman” follows the story of 30-year-old Cassie Thomas, a barista who lives a double life due to her traumatic past. The powerful piece from Focus Features takes on the problem of rape culture while encouraging victims of sexual violence to seek justice.

Played by “The Great Gatsby” actress Carey Mulligan, Cassie spends her days working at a local coffee shop while living with her parents at home. When the sun goes down, she takes to the streets and goes to bars and clubs, pretending to be heavily intoxicated.

As Cassie expects, men approach her claiming to be the “good guy.” They offer to take her home, where they then attempt to assault and take advantage of her. She then reveals her true sober state and essentially chastises them verbally before walking out. In doing this, Cassie hopes to scare potential predators and prevent women from being targeted in the future. Known as a sort-of revenge-seeking ghost to the men in her area, she works as her own nonviolent vigilante.

After dropping out of medical school several years earlier to help her best friend Nina, a victim of sexual assault, Cassie devotes her time to try and get justice for Nina after she lost her life to suicide. As Cassie watches fellow friends, classmates and authority figures look the other way time and time again when they were confronted with the truth, she decides that she will have to try and right the wrongs herself.

Fennell’s choice to cast Mulligan as the strong female lead is among the various great aspects that make “Promising Young Woman” so hard to forget. Being the multidimensional and complex character Cassie is, it’s clear that the task of portraying her in a fulfilling light would not be an easy one.

Despite this, Mulligan fit the role perfectly and lived up to the character’s potential so that it is sure to exceed all audiences’ expectations. From her quirky outfits to her inspiring confrontations, the character is brought to life in a way that will leave viewers thirsty to learn everything they can about her. Loyal to Nina even in death and dedicated to protecting others, Cassie is the friend we all wish we had and a role model to all women and girls.

While the plot is sprinkled with light-hearted, humorous scenes, the film’s honest portrayal of society’s view on rape culture today is made crystal clear—that sexual assault survivors who come forward are rarely believed. And, even worse, that bystanders who know these attacks to be true are likely to think of it as not being their problem. “She was drunk,” they think, or “She put herself in danger.” This idea is tackled head-on in “Promising Young Woman.”

The truth is that in today’s society, victims are dismissed and blamed much too often while perpetrators are let off the hook. Set in an unnamed city and made up of seemingly normal individuals, the narrative shows that sexual predators target their victims regardless of demographics and assume their attacks will be heard as nothing more than women seeking attention. This statement is heartbreaking and inspiring all in one, and is sure to leave a mark on anyone who comes across “Promising Young Woman.”

To watch “Promising Young Woman” on demand, click here.

Illustration by Ariel Landry
Illustration by Ariel Landry