“Promising Young Woman” is relevant art for the #MeToo movement

I watched the trailer for “Promising Young Woman” with skepticism. I believed it would be a misguided attempt to make the cruel reality of sexual assault into something glamourous and empowering. When I finally watched the movie, I was brought to tears at how well Fennell created a plot that captured the world women live in. Disguised as a neo-liberal rape-revenge with elements of a romantic comedy, “Promising Young Woman” is one of the greatest feminist movies ever made, showing the truth of assault victims’ trauma in a society designed to hurt women.

Throughout the movie, the background keeps a theme of innocent, 80s-inspired, candy colors. Although she is 29 years old, the main character, Cassie, and the day-to-day life around her seem to be the picture of childish femininity despite the twisted events unfolding at the same time. As she sits cross-legged in her pastel childhood bedroom journaling with her cherry-colored pen, she is writing her disturbing plans to avenge her deceased best friend Nina’s brutal rape. Leading up to the climax of the movie, where Cassandra is prepared to kill the same rapist, she is wearing a brightly colored wig that looks like it could be used for a child’s game of dress-up. Emerald Fennell uses this distinct theme to contrast the male view of femininity with the reality and trauma that women face daily at the hands of the same men. She also chose this setting to show how Cassie feels cemented in her childhood, unable to mature and heal since the assault and suicide of Nina.

“Promising Young Woman” continues this same contrast with the casting and montages that feel as if you are watching a romantic-comedy. Actors such as Bo Burnham, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Adam Brody, and Max Greenfield who are known for portraying the “nice” and “not like other guys” trope are cast to play the assailants and apologists of the movie. This casting method is used to subvert the typical cliche of rapists being a hyper-masculine man, and the “savior” being a nerdy, awkward, guy. In reality, all types of men uphold rape culture and Promising Young Woman stays true to this fact. The film lulls the viewer into a false sense of security watching rom-com montages of Cassandra and her love interest Ryan as they dance around the drugstore with Paris Hilton’s song “Stars are Blind.” Just minutes later, Cassie sees the tape of Ryan watching and laughing as Nina gets raped. Emerald Fennell utilizes the cutesy love story theme to demonstrate how in actuality, misogyny follows women everywhere, including their personal relationships.

As a woman who considers herself a feminist, I have never found a film under the rape-revenge category that I enjoy, even though most of those movies are meant to be feminist. This is because those movies, well-intentioned or not, focus on the assailant’s punishment rather than the pain of the victim. I don’t believe that rape, the reality for an estimated one out of every six women in America (RAINN.org), can be transformed into a fun and empowering plotline no matter the context. Promising Young Woman strays from the rape-revenge genre by centering how the trauma of assault ruins Cassie’s life, and eventually leads to her death. The viewer is uncomfortable and disturbed watching how Cassandra’s pain blinds her, setting her on a path of self-destruction as she tries to achieve any type of closure. This is the true purpose of the film, to show the harsh reality of a world where women’s bodies are considered to be an object that the men around them are entitled to. 

Promising Young Woman does not stuff rape into a box and tie a glittery bow around it; it unpacks rape from that box and explores the pre-conceived ideas that surround it. The intention is not to have viewers leave the theater feeling satisfied in a world where women are experiencing assault daily, it’s to enlighten them on the misogynistic society they live in. Promising Young Woman executes this perfectly, becoming one of the greatest feminist movies ever made.