Promising Young Woman

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Promising Young Woman Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Dark, powerful, mature revenge comedy attacks rape culture.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 16 reviews

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

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.

Consumerism

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHydroPlaysXband... December 27, 2020

Possibly my favorite film of the year. As of the time of writing this.

Promising Young Woman is a, never mind. I’m not going to tell what it’s about. That would have to include spoilers. But it’s powerful and has a great current me... Continue reading
Adult Written byEllenYesEllen January 26, 2021

Important, powerful, well-done movie

If you are interested in helping change how we raise our youth so that we have less violence and oppression in the world, this movie will help you. It is an imp... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bySef42041 January 26, 2021

Amazing film

This movie goes into dark topics and takes risks many others do not, and it paid off well. Shows the atrocities of rape culture and the affects sexual assault c... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMr. Mongo December 5, 2021

Carrey mulligan is good but dialogue is bad

Awkward dialogue and story is kind of dumb, lots of cheese. But it’s fairly well shot and Carrey mulligan is great in this and I like Alison Brie. The soundtrac... Continue reading

What's the story?

Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) was considered a PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN until traumatic events led her to drop out of medical school several years earlier. Now she works at a coffee shop by day and by night is a vigilante who goes to bars and pretends to be drunk until some "nice," "decent" guy decides he'd better get her home "safely." If only they did. The cast also includes Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Adam BrodyJennifer Coolidge, Max Greenfield, and more.

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? 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sexual assault and victim blaming. How does Promising Young Woman try to counter rape culture, compared to other films that have condoned or encouraged it, including Sixteen Candles and Revenge of the Nerds?

  • What's appealing about vigilante justice and revenge? How does this film compare to other films in that genre?

  • How can entertainment open minds and shift perspectives? Can you think of examples when society changed because of a movie? What long-term impact do you think this film could have?

  • How are drinking, smoking, and drug use portrayed? Are they glamorized? 

  • What does this film have to say about suicide and grieving? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dark comedies

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate