Promising Young Woman not quite Fallen

Cassandra aka Cassie (Carey Mulligan) wanted to be a doctor and she probably would have been an excellent one, but something happened in med school (in offscreen space) which made her drop out and pursue the customer service vocation in a coffee shop.  As the title character in Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020), Cassie has a particular hobby that is as much about punishment as it is about power…and humiliation.  The trailer presents it quite succinctly.  The bulk of the film follows how merely dragging through life turns quickly into a Teach-You-a-Lesson To-Do list.


The central story of a past trauma involving sexual assault where our protagonist isn’t corporeally affected but whose life is wholly impacted and the befriending Ryan (Bo Burnham) scenes and montages conjure a bizarre amalgamation of a typical Hallmark Channel film if it were written by Lifetime Movie Network.  With much better actors and a stronger grasp at building anxiety and instilling an unconscious distrust of a certain normal guy (who’s supposed to function as a foil to the disappointing male specimens in the first third of the film), Promising Young Woman manages to set itself apart from the noise of cable television content where women are way too friendly or petty maniacs.

I’d rather not delve much more into the plot other than to offer that it consists of five sections once the character-establishing introduction ends:
I. Madison (Alison Brie)
II. Dean Walker (Connie Britton)
III. The Lawyer (Alfred Molina)
IV. The Bachelor Party
V. The Wedding

Along with Tenet, I wanted to see this film so badly in 2020.  It was supposed to have its wide(r) theatrical release in April, but it didn’t…and then wasn’t out until December 2020.  It’s been playing in my city for a few weeks as of this post writing.  Since coronavirus is still in circulation, though, I’m reserving my riskier indoor commerce experiences for bookstores.  Eddie from Jordan and Eddie wrote about Promising Young Woman and I was going to wait to watch it on DVD, but he alerted me to its streaming iterations, so I slammed down a twenty on Amazon Prime.  I watched it 1.5 times.

I love Carey Mulligan in general and in this film, and, while I’m probably still going to get it on DVD, I’m relieved I saw it sooner rather than later because… I was hoping to love Promising Young Woman as a movie first and sociological thesis second, instead it’s the other way around.

Miscellaneous Comments & Observations:
~ The driver providing ride-hailing services in the first sequence of the film tells Jerry (Adam Brody) to put his address in the app in what is probably a cover-his-ass move in case something bad should happen to Cassie, who appears quite drunk in the backseat.  The camera cuts back-and-forth between the reflection of the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror and Cassie’s face.  Is including this detail an effort to bolster verisimilitude and that real drivers of such services have made similar requests when the destination changes and there’s a soberish guy and a tipsy gal as passengers?
~ Cassie is walking down the street holding a hot dog and there’s a rivulet of ketchup down her forearm — is the ketchup symbolic of some violence that happened or just the mindset of someone who isn’t afraid of getting stained.
~ The moment Bo Burnham’s character appears on screen, I’m suspicious of his presence.  The more he talks, the more I wonder if his non-storyline relevant dialogue is a version of his comedy routines.  He delivers some of them like he’s got an audience and a mic (the bit about his parents wanting him to be a DJ in a very deliberately awkward dinner scene).
~ Cassie does something right before what appears in this image and it prompts me to assume that the characters live in a state with strict gun laws — strict enough that it wouldn’t be considered suspension of disbelief that the other person involved in this quasi-altercation isn’t packing.

~ In the fourth segment, I started convincing myself that this film has to be a variation of the fallen woman film.  There’s no way we could get a Hard Candy resolution, could we?
~ Laverne Cox plays Carey Mulligan’s boss and isn’t in very much of the film, but she is a delight on screen…in all of the Hallmark-lite mise-en-scene.

It also inspired the below poem, which you should only read if you don’t mind minor spoilers.


Vertical lines
Names in a notebook
keep tabs on the dirty dozen
and counting who self-identify
as ‘nice guys’
whose apartments are conveniently
always on the way.
Bet they never wonder
if that swaying woman
in the crook of their arms
or draped across couches
and beds
is actually sober
and in a scolding mood.

It doesn’t take a village
to be trampled upon,
it only takes a group of women
who won’t hold themselves
to better standards,
defaulting to ostracize or abandon
one of their own.
To not remember
what happened is bad,
to be doubted for other people’s
immorality is worse,
and none of it matters
until it happens to you.

In the spirit of the law,
innocent until proven guilty
especially if there’s (no) video documentation
of what was said to have occurred,
which as far as you’re concerned,
is just another day
on a college campus.
Everyone makes bad choices,
everyone gets drunk,
but the benefit of the doubt
must be given
to the bright, young man
with the child-like blue eyes,
the desperation of a cornered animal,
and the resolve of a dinner entree
right before the ax falls.

It’s never too late to atone,
it’s never too late to grow up,
to acknowledge the error
of yesteryear ascension up
the corporate legal ladder,
where every settlement,
every case won,
every piece of character-assassination
was like working on commission.
And to be done with that lot,
trade more victories for a sabbatical.

A gaggle of men holed up in a cabin
to drink and be obnoxiously merry
under the watchful eyes of
sharp-toothed carnivores.
They open the door
to a nurse with rainbow hair
and the longest-lasting blue chewing gum
who feeds them vodka
like it’s Christmas and homecoming,
and the evening’s special guest
improvises out of desperation
the first day of the rest of his life.

You don’t reach the edge
of post-revenge detachment
without crossing every T,
dotting every I,
counting every comma,
and anticipating panic-moves.
The legal counsel you’ve forgiven
will play a crucial part
in delivering the final nail in the coffin
for the phantoms patrolling your heart.
As the sirens announce your plan
put into action,
it becomes too clear
the saddest strand in this operation
is that many assailants really should have known better,
but prefer to bob along in the waves
of youthful debauchery and isolation
no matter the gender of predator and prey.
Are there really any good ones left
or have we all detoured into regrets
and plausible deniability
sandwiched between bouts of confidence
that one is beyond reproach?

— yiqi 19 January 2021 12:47 am

Pic creds: IMDB, Amazon Prime

1 thought on “Promising Young Woman not quite Fallen

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