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"Promising Young Woman" Review

 Once upon a time, about 30 years ago, there was a young man who had always been sort of a dorky loser. He had had girlfriends, so it wasn't like he was radioactive, but he was never a ladies man. Then in the wake of a devastating breakup, he lost weight (he called it the Sudden Stess & Heartache Diet) and combined with not getting a haircut for a couple of years his look had transformed into what he'd later refer to as his "Discount Chris Cornell" days, after the hirsute lead yeowler for the grunge band Soundgarden. 

 Due to what had to have been a concurrent glitch in The Matrix, the lad suddenly found himself to be, as his oldest friend (a female) from high school teased, "a bitch magnet," as, bizarrely, women at clubs would gravitate toward him on the dance floor and ask him he he'd ever been told he looked like Chris Cornell? (Narrator: "Yes, he had. From the last woman he ended up shagging who opened with, 'Has anyone told you that you look like...'")  As he would later joke, "I was such a stud that I was in constant danger of having drywall nailed to me." It was an extremely weird year for him, but eventually someone rebooted The Matrix and he resumed his previous status of a guy who didn't seem to get many glances from women. Business as usual.

 During his dance hall days, there was one young woman he became acquainted with due to being a regular at his local haunt. She had a sarcastic demeanor and looked like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, but fortunately without the bunny boiling crazy part. Nothing remotely carnal occurred between them, though he thought she was attractive in that Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction way. 

One night at the end of an evening dancing it was obvious she was in no condition to drive safely, so the young man offered to take her home. She lived in a neighboring, much higher rent, suburb about 15 minutes away. Arriving at her family's home, he had to support her walking and use her keys to open the door. While trying to juggle her and the keys and the lock, she started to try and kiss the chivalrous lad. Now, he was interested in her, but not under these circumstances so he tipped his head away and told her to have a good night and call if she needed a ride back in the morning to retrieve her car. She had someone else take her and the incident was never mentioned again. Shortly after, he settled down in a very long term relationship with someone more brunette and lived happily ever after. 

The End.

 The reason for this fairy tale preamble is because according to the cynical, dishonest, reprehensibly toxic, misandrist and totally garbage Promising Young Woman - appallingly nominated for five Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actress, and Editing) in these meaningless asterisk Feel Bad Awards for the lost year of 2020 - there aren't any men who would pass up the opportunity to impose themselves on a sloppy drunk woman. None. 

According to writer-director Emerald Fennell (best known to most for playing Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown; known to writing nerds as writer-showrunner for the second season of Killing Eve) every man in a sexist pig predator who preys on women without conscience, mercy, nor remorse. Every. Single. One. #YesAllMen And as a result, Promising Young Woman is probably the most culturally poisonous movie since Crash. It's worse than just a bad movie because it's a profoundly evil movie by design, wrapping a mindbogglingly hateful premise in a bright candy-coated shell intended to beguile the undiscerning into sharing its illusion of meaning and hope.

I used to think that Paul Haggis was the most dishonest screenwriter in Hollyweird due to his craven stacking of decks (e.g. Hillary Swank's family is such trash in Million Dollar Baby that of course suicide is preferable; the wealthy guilty white liberal racism fantasia that was 2004's "Best Picture" Crash), but Fennell really gives him a run for his money and has reaped the rewards as a symbol of feminist empowerment in the way all power is garnered these days: By claiming eternal victimhood from the oppressive Patriarchy, which is an odd flex for a successful actress and filmmaker.

 It's difficult to explain just how malicious this movie is without spoiling much of the plot except that while the trailer (below) does a nice job not spelling out the reasons Carey Mulligan's character is doing what she does, if you've read anything about it, you probably know what drives this revenge tale and knowing this sucks much of the impact out of how Fennell doles out the details.

However the trailer does give a taste of the premise as they summarize the opening sequences of the story where Mulligan feigns being blotto drunk at the bar and inevitably some irredeemable garbage man swoops in to take her back to his place for some fully unconsensual sexual activity, only to have her snap to, fully sober, presumably to scold them for being uncouth and presumptuous. We're never shown what happened to distinguish between the different colored marks she makes in her copiously marked log book. The men are portrayed as sexist pigs talking about her before taking advantage of her. OK, so men are pigs. Bold original concept rarely seen except for Thelma & Louise and countless other movies where men are pigs and killing them the only proper remedy.

When not trolling the bars for marks - I just realized that the massively overrated Hustlers, where strippers drugged men and robbed them, had a more favorable view of men - she lives at home with her parents at age 30 and works at a coffee shop owned by Laverne Cox.  One day, a guy comes in (Bo Burnham, who is like if they cloned Matthew Modine and removed all the a-hole genes that give him a punchable face) who attended medical school with her. He's now a pediatric surgeon, but why is she slinging java drinks? He's sweet on her and seems to be a Nice Guy, but as Fennell has clearly established, ALL men are predatory rapists, so it's just a matter of time before he's going to turn on her, right?

Even though this movie certainly doesn't deserve a shred of protection and I've spoiled movies worthy of being torched - witness my Country Strong review from 10 years and two weeks ago - I'm going to be merciful to this movie unworthy of mercy by nuking it below the trailer. 

Suffice to say, I completely LOATHED this movie. To quote wholesale from Roger Ebert's infamous review for North:

"I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."

 But let me pause DIRK SMASH! mode for a moment to praise a few things about Promising Young Woman. Mulligan's performance is quite good and worthy of nomination as she manages to make Fennell's cartoon of her character feel tangible in her grief and rage. Fennell's direction has some nice style to it for her feature directorial debut. (She only directed a short a couple years back.)

We now return to our beatdown in progress...

But all of the above is for naught because Fennell the director is stuck directing Fennell the writer's egregiously dishonest script. The quality of screenwriting has been in precipitous decline in recent years with barely above-average material reaping wild award praise, but the dominant plague of wokeness and virtue signaling which has plagued entertainment these days, replacing reason and entertainment with screeds and tracts, that what is little more than a two-hour-long 3rd wave feminism lecture consisting of two words repeated (i.e. "Men BAD!") would be hailed as a empowering feminist story is its own indictment. 

As previous stated, every single man in this movie is garbage and pretty much most of the women are, too. Mulligan has plenty of righteous grievance and motivation for her actions, but Fennell doesn't trust the audience to be capable of discerning nuance; no, she gets a giant highway billboard, emblazons the Big Message (i.e. "Men BAD!") upon it, and then proceeds to hammer the view in the head with it for two hours so they get the point. Even that One Good Guy turns out to be no different from the rest. (SPOILER ALERT!) 

Everyone is either a perpetrator or complicit in this world. Everyone has an excuse or a justification for their behavior. Even the mother of her best friend whose fate inspires Mulligan's acts tells her to move on. There is a corrosive cynicism which I've noticed underpins the work of Millennial writers like Damien Chazelle, who is about the same age as Fennell. Chazelle's Whiplash and La La Land screenplays were both sabotaged by Millennial cynicism, especially the latter film which had the most effervescent opening 17 minutes since Chicago then implode into Ryan Gosling's whiny bitching. There's a difference between having a low opinion of humanity and the nihilistic black hole perspective Fennell cast her milieu in. 

With the exception of one guilt-destroyed man who begs forgiveness for his life of sins against women, making him merely a repentant monster, everyone is selfish and irredeemable and this is supposed to make Mulligan a righteous avenging angel, striking a blow against the mythical Patriarchy and despicable males. (Can't really call these pigs "men", can we?) But it's so fragile a construct that not a single instance where a guy puts her in a cab to get her home can be shown? There can't be a moment where her methods are questioned?

But not content with stacking the deck so overwhelmingly even the aforementioned Paul Haggis would say, "Come on. Really?" Fennell then suckerpunches the audience with a plot twist that if I hadn't already been accidentally spoiled by, thus overshadowing the entire experience watching the movie knowing where it's going, I may've turned the movie off there. That she then follows that up with some more nihilistic evil of men and then ends with what is meant to be the crowd-pleasing finale which demands the viewer approve of how the worst case of vigilante justice ever was served. 

Right before watching this cinematic war crime, I saw a friend soliciting suggestions for movies to watch and I saw a woman chirp, "Promising Young Woman!" Seriously, if you have seen this movie and thought that ending was happy, you really need to have your head examined to see if your flipping marbles haven't fallen out somewhere.

The greatest shame of Promising Young Woman is that if Fennell could've somehow overcome her generation's insipid nihilism - I'm Generation X, which is turning out to be the Second Greatest Generation to whom the destruction of the Boomers and the brats younger than us shall fall - and not rigged the game so baldly that the cards are obviosuly pouring out of her sleeves, it could've been the edgy black dramedy it wrongly imagines itself being. Mulligan's performance is in service of nothing but lies and it's such a waste. 

If you want the full ugly details, find them below.

Score: 0/10. Kill it with fire. Also, SKIP IT!

************* SPOILERS AHEAD!! ************** 






************* NOT KIDDING! TURN BACK NOW!!! **********

Here is the full story:


Mulligan's lifelong best friend Nina attended medical school with her. One night, Nina got drunk and raped by a classmate which some of his pals watched. The school did nothing about it, treating it as a he said, she said case where she clearly was to blame for getting drunk and vulnerable. Distraught, Nina dropped out and Mulligan followed to support her, but Nina eventually kills herself. So she's filled the next seven years trolling the bars, doing.....we never know. She's clearly not killing these guys represented by the colored hash marks otherwise there'd be hundreds of bodies and that would certainly attract attention from 5-0. 

Since she has chosen to make baiting disgusting men her life's work, it's natural she'd be suspicious of any man, including the former classmate who pursues her with puppy dog charm and a harmless air that you'd correctly suspect will be torn away. The bubble bursts when another classmate (Allison Brie) whom Mulligan sets up for what appears to be her own drunken encounter gives her a phone with a video of the rape that was passed around because that's what irredeemable trash people do on this Earth-like planet. On the video is Doctor Nice Guy observing and not interceding. 

Threatening to expose his complicity, she gets him to tell her where the bachelor party of the rapist is being held. Dressed as a naughty nurse (see the trailer), she drugs the entire party except for the rapist groom-to-be and handcuffs him to a bed. She reveals who she is and prepares to carve Nina's name into his body with a scalpel, but he breaks one hand free and then proceeds to smother her with a pillow.

That's right, folks: The rapist who destroyed her friend's life murders her.

Now that you've picked your jaw off the floor....the next morning the best man, who had shot and shared the video, comes in and discovers his bro and the dead body and does what any man on this planet would do: Takes her corpse out into a field and burns it. Because men are amoral scum. In case you missed the previous parts of the movie.

But Mulligan gets the last laugh as she has sent the phone to a lawyer (an uncredited Alfred Molina) whose firm made a fortune getting evil rapey men to dodge consquences until the guilt and shame broke him. The accompanying note explains that she was going to the bachelor party and if anything happens, give the phone to the cops and tells when the wedding is.

This leads to the crowd-pleasing finale where the cops arrive after the vows and the groom is hauled away for murder and a scheduled text to Dr. Nice Guy Who Wasn't Nice taunts him from beyond the grave. Womp womp! Feel bad, bro! She showed you guys, didn't she? #JusticeForNina

Sure, she's DEAD and Nina's dead and presumably Dr. Raper will have high-dollar legal counsel get him off light because it WAS self-defense against some psycho hose beast chick who was planning on carving her vendetta into his flesh instead of straight-up killing him and getting away. Nope, she had to die because women are helpless victims who can only get justice at the cost of their lives.

Drive home safely, everyone! Grrrl Powah!

I'll wait while you chug some bleach to purge this story from your mind. OK, back now? Let's proceed...

I mentioned Thelma & Louise above and while that 1991 movie has a hefty dose of "men are pigs" animating the plot from Thelma's crappy husband, the attempted rapist Louise kills, and the gross gas tanker driver whose rig they shoot and blow up (which could never happen in reality that way), there are also some decent men like Louise's boyfriend and the cop played by Harvey Keitel who sympathizes with their plight and tries to get them to surrender. But in a trope-setting ending which devolved into Fennell's even grimmer view, the pair choose suicide over prison because it's a man's world, baby, and ain't no way for women to survive in it. 

While there's no denying that there are too many guys who do not qualify as "men", to pretend that the percentage of guys being as terribad as movies portray them approaches 100% is a damnable lie. Real men are not predators, they're protectors; protectors of their families, their friends, even strangers. They're coded in their genes to protect the weak. Even if you've had the misfortune to suffer at the hands of one of these rat bastards, you know that they are a small minority. I simply refuse to believe that I, the guy in the opening fairy tale (in case you didn't figure that out), am some sort of magical unicorn exception to the rule because I didn't capitalize on my drunk acquaintance's actions that night. When a culture presents an insane portrait of a world where one half are inherently evil and the other half oppressed victims for whom suicidal vengeance is the only escape, that leads nowhere good.

Maybe I am since during that brief period of inexplicable desirability I never made a first move on any woman, merely responded to those who approached me first. I never kidded myself that I was all that and just rode the rogue wave until it faded. Most likely, it's because I was raised by a single mother who worked her butt off to provide for me and thus strong women - genuinely strong, not the fake "stunning and brave" victimhood-mongers hailed as role models nowadays - are to be revered for their self-reliance. 

This is what's pernicious and corrosive about Fennell's movie. Despite her having an active acting career for a decade now, then swinging into writing and producing a popular TV series, and now garnering three Oscar nominations for her debut feature, it's impossible to square the squalid illusion of "Men BAD! Women VICTIMS!" with her own life. It's the central sickness of our time that a woman can write, produce, and direct a major motion picture with the message that women have no opportunities and will end up used, abused, raped, discarded, and killed by men who have total dominion over the world. Ummmmm, whut?

There is something ironic and perverse that Fennell's big breaks came from her friend Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the tart actress and writer who created, wrote and starred in the brilliant Amazon Prime series Fleabag and adapted and created Killing Eve, handing the reins over to Fennell. I find Waller-Bridge quite interesting because her characters are complicated, messy, and filled with agency. If any of her women are victims, they're more victims of their own bad choices than a world set against them. She doesn't write saintly women and demonic men, she writes three-dimensional people with foibles and strengths and weaknesses. As I've belabored, Fennell here writes in only two colors: black and really really black, like Spinal Tap none-more-black black. But because Mulligan brings down the evil men who destroyed her in the end we're supposed to feel great about the lecture and the fact it means nothing?



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