Anaerobic Anti-Heroine

Here’s another coffee-adjacent post; this one is pushing it, however. The main character in Promising Young Woman, Cassie, does work in a coffee shop. That’s about it. The real reason is that I was so pleased with myself after writing this review that I had to share it.

“Promising Young Woman features our anti-heroine, Cassie, on a mission conducting scorched-earth warfare on the entire male gender, leaving nothing but emasculated corpses and shattered ego in her wake,” is what the description of this film would read had Emerald Fennell taken the Taken approach and turned our beloved, yet slightly perturbed Cassie into a genderbent Liam Neeson. I will be honest here; I loved Promising Young Woman. This film felt like a breath of fresh air: finally, we receive a revenge thriller with some depth.

            Regarding the dystopian alternate reality about this film’s other possible outcome as an estrogen-fueled version of Taken: did I include this into my film review because I thought it was an amusing way to introduce it? Absolutely. Do I think that the thought experiment has merit? Also yes. As much as I truly believe this narrative style with nuance and real flaws in Cassie’s character was Fennell’s intention from the beginning, it feels like Promising Young Woman never could have been the blood-pumping rampage that Taken was. This film has intricacy and intrigue because it had to if it was the artist’s intention or not. While Taken promotes traditional American values of murdering foreign people en masse, guns, saving your daughter from rape, and more foreign villainy on top of it all, Promising Young Woman promotes the promiscuous ideas of holding men accountable and women taking matters into their own hands. While this is (only slightly) hyperbolic and full of conjecture, I think it’s the safest assumption in the world that Promising Young Woman, if it had taken a violent Taken approach, would have been a fringe cult classic at best. What’s the motivation? A white woman getting revenge on white men in her friend’s name? Taken had its main character murder foreigners so that a father can rescue his helpless daughter and subsequently made $226 million at the box office.

            Instead of continuing to wear my emotions on my sleeve and shitting on every middle-class father’s favorite movie, I would like to hold a civilized discussion regarding Promising Young Woman’s rape-revenge masterpiece and its merits that require no comparison to more financially successful movies. First off: this movie is beautiful. The colors and shot composition tell a story, as well. Powdery, pastel colors are present in Cassie’s happier moments: towards the middle section of the movie, the colors lighten. She’s found a boyfriend, she’s beginning to learn to move past her friend’s untimely assault and death, and Cassie seems to be truly healing. The image depicted amid this paragraph, a medium, eye-level shot of Cassie wearing pastel pink, shows these colors on full display; they are beautiful, youthful, and light. The wall fixture behind her even seems like a halo, like she’s an angel! Her head is turned to the side in this image, almost like she’s still unhinged, however. Also, biblical imagery in a revenge-fueled film like this one cannot mean good things for the narrative. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Cassie is unhinged. We should have known this already; there was a shot in the first scene of the film that painted Cassie as Christ the Redeemer descending into hell to redeem her friend.

Revenge on its own is not a tell-tale sign of being unhinged, of course. Seeing as our perception of color and imagery change as Cassie’s mental state does with increased hues of red when approaching violent or dangerous situations, however, I think it’s safe to assume that this is how Cassie views herself; she is prescribing righteous justice to men in the wake of her friend’s demise. This is why I enjoyed this movie so much, though. Cassie is a character with real flaws that audience members can truly relate to. Most of us would spiral in a way just like Cassie, though maybe with less revenge and God complexes.

            While this review’s comparison to Taken may have seemed out of the blue, I believe it is particularly useful to compare the multiple magnitudes that Taken has over Promising Young Woman financially. Our rape-revenge masterpiece earned around 8% of the money that Taken did. Extenuating circumstances aside (marketing budget, etc.) this holds the harrowing truth when it comes to America’s appetite for such films.