A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Creates a powerful, empathetic view of the victims of sexual assault. Condemns rape culture and toxic masculinity. Shows the power of friendship.
Positive Role Models
Cassie is smart, creative, the most loyal of friends; she's also driven almost entirely by revenge. The men she meets/teaches a lesson to range from toxic would-be rapists to "good guys" who try to get by with "boys will be boys" excuses. Cassie's parents care about her but have no idea how to relate to her. Black trans actress Laverne Cox plays a positive, supportive character who's a successful small-business owner.
Violence & Scariness
Intimidating, threatening behavior by the main character. Men try to coerce a seemingly drunk woman into sex; one kisses a woman's legs as he pulls down her underwear without her consent. Verbal threats and arguments. (Spoiler alert!) Forceful struggle leads to a fatal suffocation. Description and audio of a past sexual assault that happened (no visuals), with an emphasis on the emotional and mental distress of the victim and those closest to her. Suicide is referenced.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Joke about anal sex. A developing romance includes kissing, cuddling, implied sex. Sexy shots of a stripper at a bachelor party (she doesn't actually take anything off). Men treat a woman like a sexual object.
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Strong language includes "a--hole," "bitch," "blow job," "c--t," "d--k," "p---y," "s--t," and several uses of "f--k." "Jesus Christ" and "oh my God" are used as exclamations.
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Products & Purchases
Brands like Spam and Hormel are seen incidentally at a drug store.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drinking wine at dinner is shown positively; all other drinking is put into a negative light. An unlikable character snorts cocaine. Smoking by a character to demonstrate anguish. One character gives others a knock-out drug. A woman pretends to be drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Promising Young Woman is a dark revenge comedy/feminist thriller about a woman named Cassie (Carey Mulligan) who pretends to be a "drunken vixen" to test men's good intentions. The ones who try to take advantage of her inability to consent are in store for an epic reckoning. Sexual assault is at the center of the story, and while none of it comes to fruition on camera, the idea and memory of it live in every frame. The film makes a very clear point about the toxic, sexist culture that allows sexual assault to go relatively unchecked. Cassie is brilliant, cunning, and in control: Her brand of vigilante justice may come across as appealing, but she purposely seeks out very dangerous situations. Scenes show men kissing her and even pulling her underwear down without her OK. This lets the film simultaneously (1) make the point that a woman who drinks too much is never "asking for it" and (2) operate as an unforgettable warning to women that doing so can have terrible consequences. Substance use isn't portrayed in a positive light but includes drinking, smoking, and snorting cocaine. Expect strong language ("c--t," several uses of "f--k," etc.) and a shocking struggle that leads to tragedy. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Emerald Fennell's razor-sharp feature writing and directing debut could do for sexual assault what Fatal Attraction did with cheating: Scare men into thinking twice. Fennell flawlessly improves on Death Wish and I Spit on Your Grave-type films. Cassandra is too smart to engage in straight-up, eye-for-an-eye revenge; instead, she concocts a far more creative approach that makes the perpetrators -- and maybe viewers -- realize that they're not as nice as they think they are. Cassandra's method of forced empathy has the potential to have more impact and be more influential for creating change than a basketful of documentaries or Dateline episodes.
Promising Young Woman is effective because it's phenomenally entertaining. It's original, shrewd, unexpected, and smashingly executed. Funny, too. The humor isn't silly or slapstick, but acerbic, biting, and wicked. There's not an off note on any element of the filmmaking. And Mulligan's flawless performance as a woman who finds an odd sense of purpose through tragedy leads us to wonder: Is Cassie deeply flawed? Or is she the only one who truly sees clearly?
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