By Teresa Zhang
Promising Young Woman (2020) contains all the elements of a 21st century classic: interesting plot, a talented cast and a memorable soundtrack (the words of “Stars are Crazy” by Paris Hilton was stuck in my mind for the whole month of February).
Promising Young Woman centers around the life of former med school student Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) after the traumatic rape and subsequent suicide of her best friend Nina. Each night Cassie stalks bars at night, pretending to be drunk in order to lure so-called “nice guys” (who attempt to sexually assault her) in a false sense of security before confronting them on their behavior. During the daytime, the audience sees that Cassie is in a state of arrested development, working as a barista and still living at home. The trajectory of Cassie’s life changes when a former classmate and seemingly the ultimate nice guy, Ryan (Bo Burnham), comes into her life. However, despite the change Ryan brings into her life, Cassie is still bent on revenge for Nina’s rape, confronting every party involved–from negligent deans (Connie Britton), to indifferent classmates (Alison Brie), to sleazy defense lawyers (Clancy Brown), to chauveristic rapists–and exposing them firsthand to the horrors of rape and sexual assault.
Broaching a topic as heavy sexual assault requires the right actors to play the roles, and Promising Young Woman casts the right people in these roles. Carey Mulligan perfectly expresses Cassie’s wariness and exhaustion. Bo Burnham’s performance as Ryan is the epitome of the nice guy who’s watching out for his friends.
The soundtrack of Promising Young Woman tells the emotional state of Cassie throughout the film, ranging from melancholic ballads during Cassie’s day-to-day life to empowering girl pop songs during the peak of Cassie and Ryan’s relationship. The song choice never fails to convey Cassie’s mental state, ensuring the permanent association of those songs with the events in the movie.
The 2020s signify a decade of new values in movie audiences, and no movie better exemplifies this than Promising Young Woman, telling the story of a rape realistically, from the perspective of the woman, and directed and written by a woman.