A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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 Brody, Jennifer 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?
- In theaters: December 25, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: March 16, 2021
- Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox
- Director: Emerald Fennell
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence including sexual assault, language throughout, some sexual material and drug use
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award
- Last updated: April 25, 2021
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