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Promising Young Woman, A Shambolic Amalgamation of Girl Power Films – Film Review

Always considered a promising girl and an excellent medical student, Cassandra Thomas loses the centre of her life due to a very painful circumstance. This is the story of Promising Young Woman, that portrays a constant thought, an obsession to right the wrongs of the past.

The film marks the directorial debut of British actress and screenwriter Emerald Fennell, that won the statuette for the Best Original Screenplay at the 2021 Oscars. The movie is a hybrid between thriller and drama, with a haunting backstory to chronicle female affirmation. In this period of great disclosure and struggle for women’s rights, the film seems to arrive strategically to gather easy consensus, albeit the important social message.

Prior to Promising Young Women, Charlize Theron in the 2011 Young Adult, and Jennifer Lawrence in the 2018 Red Sparrow, and even Uma Thurman in the 2003-2004 Kill Bill,  played vindictive mean girls, who had become despicable as a consequence of the society they lived in. After the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements it seems like the debate on gender politics must be presented in a different way, than having always the angry woman enacting her revenge. The conversation must change tones: in order to achieve equality between the two sexes the issue must be confronted and supported also by men. The male gender must not be identified as the enemy but as an ally for this evolution. If not history would repeat itself with one gender prevailing, and thus having matriarchy substitute patriarchy.

Promising Young Women, seems stuck in the old methodology as we are introduced to the double life of the protagonist: on the one hand a docile girl, from whom the family expects her to meet the female standards imposed by Western society for centuries, on the other a nocturnal avenger in search of probable rapists. Notwithstanding the captivating visual style and a good basic idea, Fennell’s film is not very incisive, and seems to proceed in segments. It shambolically presents multiple narratives moments, that intertwine with the present action of the protagonist. The girl power premise seems to have potential, but the film remains on a sweetened surface, halfway between existential drama and a revenge genre that never really finds a truly liberating cathartis.

Morevover, the black comedy identity of Cassandra seems to struggle to have fun with its comedic references. This is evident during the romantic interplay with American comedian Bo Burnham playing the character of Ryan, whom Cassie starts dating. The aspiring black comedy therefore gets engulfed in gloom and tones of melancholy, depicted through a colour palette that might have well been drawn from a Wes Anderson movie.

Not even Carey Mulligan’s exquisite talent, in playing this beautiful and impassible young woman on a mission, manages to lift a film that goes astray in trying to empower the female gender. What also works in her disfavour, is the style of her character, that evokes another vengeful lady we have seen over and over again on screen: Harley Quinn. In fact, the film is produced by LuckyChap Entertainment, a production company founded by Margot Robbie. Hence it doesn’t surprise to see how Cassandra’s character could very well be a DC Entertainment character, yet lacking the Joker-esque jabberwocky. 

Furthermore we have abundant villains, and the way all the males in the story are utterly negative, seems to continues to promote a stale conversation on a mutual collaboration between the genders. Although one may be surprised towards the end — with a  plot twist and completion of Cassandra’s mission being carried out by a man.

However, the titular character not only was promising in her own story-world, but the entire film seems to be promising yet failing expectations. Promising Young Woman, boasts an intriguing premise, a fantastically talented cast and skilful use of the camera, but it comes across as an uncontrolled mishmash of preceding films exploring the same themes.

Final Grade: C-

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Works as film critic and journalist who covers stories about culture and sustainability. With a degree in Political Sciences, a Master’s in Screenwriting & Film Production, and studies at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, Chiara has been working in the press since 2003. Italian by blood, British by upbringing, fond of Japanese culture since the age of 7, once a New Yorker always a New Yorker, and an avid traveller, Chiara collaborates with international magazines and radio-television networks. She is also a visual artist, whose eco-works connect to her use of language: the title of each painting is inspired by the materials she upcycles on canvas. Her ‘Material Puns’ have so far been exhibited in four continents, across ten countries. She is a dedicated ARTivist, donating her works to the causes and humanitarians she supports, and is Professor of Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts at Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan.


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