False Promises: A Call to Arms to Improve Gender Roles

Carey Mulligan seeks revenge in Promising Young Woman

Parents want to protect their children and ensure they have promising futures. We want to keep all children safe, but young girls are given an additional set of rules. They’re taught to not wear certain things, not to go to certain places at certain times or to manage the expectations of the boys around them. They’re taught to be “good girls” and be modest. Act ladylike and not be such a tomboy. When movies and tv shows feature women in jeopardy, we absorb the message that there’s danger in our lives from men–and not just strangers, but even those who claim to love us. What kind of messages are we as a society making to our young women and men? Is it that women are only safe as long as they play by certain rules? Or that women can’t depend on anyone else and must learn to protect themselves?

Emerald Fennell, English director, screenwriter (Killing Eve), actress (The Crown), has crafted a refreshing take on a #MeToo theme. With her trademark mordant humor, Fennell wrote and directed her first film, Promising Young Woman. Instead of looking at a scandal and assigning blame, she’s crafted a clever way to present the truth of how our society has enabled some men to present themselves as “nice guys” when in fact they’ve become entitled SOBs. Fennell planned her cast brilliantly. The men who are revealed to be less than stellar humans are played by actors most of us have known for playing funny, warm characters. They aren’t known as villains to audiences and this creates a great frisson when they act in unchilvarous ways.

Her star, played with a demure softness that hides a razor-sharp bitterness, is Carey Mulligan. She’s formidable as the young damaged Cassandra; all bubblegum colors, soft flowing clothes and long beautiful blond locks. Appearing dressed in child-like pajamas and fluffy pink robe, she sits at her parent’s dining room table lying about her life and her state of mind. An actress known for many period films and intelligent characters (Suffragette, Mudbound, An Education), she’s now shown behaving like the depressed college dropout. It creates a frisson; like the male actors, she’s inhabiting a character that presents as foreign to us, the audience.

The less you know about the plot, the better your chance of letting the film’s message get under your skin. The screenplay leads the audience to question why this apiring doctor has moved back home and is working at a coffee shop. She’s clearly strayed from the path she was on. When we see her transformed into the Party Girl, acting drunk and waiting to be preyed upon by a “bro” at a bar, you know there’s a story waiting to be revealed. By wisely investing time in her relationships with her boss, played by Laverne Cox and her loving but befuddled parents, Ferrell builds your sympathy with Cassandra. Clearly, with her hidden tally book and disturbing game of dress-up, there’s something more going on.

By slowly letting us see how everyone Cassandra has been taught will protect
her has let her down, we begun to understand why her life as been derailed. She’s
not interested in living; she’s on a crusade. What’s astonishing is how far
she’s willing to go to enact her revenge and how brilliantly the actor and
director have pulled us into this dangerous game. We’re invested in her journey
and afraid for her safety and sanity. Not many films in 2020 have made me feel
so invested in a character.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020 and created a buzz that the Pandemic has quieted. I hope that some people will seek this movie out at movie theaters but there’s also the chance to stream it on VOD. As of January 15th, you’ll be able to rent Promising Young Woman on Amazon Prime, iTunesGooglePlayVuduFandangoNow, or wherever you prefer to purchase digital content. You will need to pay a premium price—the suggested price point is $19.99, though this may vary depending on the platform you use—and you will have 48 hours to watch the film once you hit play.

You’ll want to have some serious discussions with the young men and women in your life after viewing Promising Young Woman. Let’s work on the message of CONSENT.

Drinks With Films rating: 5 glasses 🥃🥃🥃🥃🥃 of sweet soda disguised as hard liquor (out of 5)

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