Synopsis: A woman carries out her own plan for justice.
Do you know how to tell a nice guy from a “nice guy”? One clue is that a “nice guy” will announce to women that he is a nice guy. For example, a “nice guy” might preface remarks with “I’m a nice guy” before launching into a story about misbehaving women who have no one but themselves to blame for their misfortune. Maybe he’s determined that a particular woman is a “bitch” or “slut.” So I guess some women wouldn’t be worthy of being treated with basic decency because they defy how women “should” be ??? Nope! Not nice. Also not nice when women do it to other women. Promising Young Woman is full of characters acting out society’s notions of what kind of callous or violent behavior gets excused because of who’s doing it and who they’re doing it to.
Writer-director Emerald Fennell’s dark comedy Promising Young Woman is an agile object lesson on the dangers of everyday sexism. Carey Mulligan (excellent as always) is Cassie , a thirty year old med school dropout who works at a cafe. She lives with her parents, who implore her to get her life back on track — choose a career, date, make friends. It seems that Nina, her best friend and fellow med student was sexually assaulted about seven years before and subsequently committed suicide. Possibly. Blanks get filled in along the way.
Every weekend Cassie goes to a bar or club and pretends to be wasted to see how men will treat her. One night she might dress conservatively in a suit. Another night, she might dress ‘provocatively.’ She encounters all sorts of men; including “nice guys.” Some of the men check her out and laugh at how inebriated she is. Slouched over on a banquette, her legs wobble apart and one creep sniggers that she’s “asking for it.” His fellow bro blames the girlfriends who maybe took off instead of watching out for her. But, really, how dangerous could they be?
The filmmakers cast a smorgasbord of recognizable cameos… Adam Brody (Did you learn this entitlement in the O.C.?!), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (It is Superbad behavior to rub coke on someone’s gums without consent!), Alfred Molina (Watch out for Doc Oc-he almost destroyed NYC in Spider-Man 2!). I was not surprised in the least when Max Greenfield (Schmidt on New Girl) showed up — he’s really good at playing a pr**k.
Cassie is playing a dangerous game plying an assortment of men who want to bring a wasted woman home for sex. I guess their philosophy being: She can’t say ‘no’ if she’s blacked out. When Cassie springs up, completely lucid and coordinated, they practically jump out of their skins. Listen to the “nice guys” explain themselves. (The only thing I didn’t find believable was that Cassie could do this for months or years without actually getting hurt.)
Cassie’s mission is lonely. By choice she barley interacts with anyone besides her parents and her boss Gail (Laverne Cox in a nice turn). Gail is a no-nonsense business woman, but even she indicates that Cassie needs to brush away some of her cynicism.
One day Bo Burnham walks into the cafe–yay, Bo Burnham. Hypnotically tall & offbeat; I was glad the maker of Eighth Grade had entered the picture. At first Cassie tries to pretend that she doesn’t know him from med school. He apologizes for acting like she deserves pity for now working in the service sector because she was…wait for it… the title of the movie. But so was her one true friend. So begins her push & pull from confronting would-be rapists each weekend vs dating Bo Burnham–I mean Ryan. Could Ryan actually be a nice guy and not a “nice guy”?
Let me go back to cameos for a sec… besides the men in the movie there are also some more women who could be allies in getting justice for Cassie’s friend. I mean they have the same overarching interests, so they should be, right? Enter Alison Brie (Glow, Community and parent to her and husband Dave Franco’s cats) as an erstwhile med schoolmate and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, Dirty John and absent of any objectification, can I say she has the most enviable mane of hair) as an academician. Thank goodness for the sisterhood, right? I mean internalized sexism can’t be a real thing, can it?
So, yes, Promising Young Woman has a lot to say about the patriarchy as it plays out in the West, or least in the States. But it’s funny too –plenty of sharp lines, like a guy insisting “girls look better without makeup– guys don’t like a lot of makeup.” Thanks for the advice, lol.
To wrap up how to tell a “nice guy” from a nice guy … I would say that a nice guy is not a bystander when women are being denigrated. Nice guys are allies at the workplace, at home and in the community. Let’s hope we see more nice guys in the movies too.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: Thought-provoking and mordantly funny.
Humor Highlight: Carey Mulligan & Bo Burnham’s characters’ banter.