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Arts Culture Tatler Review: Why People Hated The Ending Of "Promising Young Woman" (2020)

Tatler Review: Why People Hated The Ending Of "Promising Young Woman" (2020)

Tatler Review: Why People Hated The Ending Of "Promising Young Woman" (2020)
By Christine Andas
By Christine Andas
February 16, 2021
Promising Young Woman tries its best to appear like a rom-com but as the story progresses, each scene reveals the film for what it truly is—a twisted thriller with an ending that is as disturbing as reality. Spoilers ahead!

Set in contemporary times, the film Promising Young Woman shows Cassie Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan) working at a café by day and guises as a helpless girl by night to lure dangerous men to expose them and avenge her friend Nina—who committed suicide after suffering abuse and being dismissed by their school administration. Later in the film, Cassie learns that Al Monroe (played by Chris Lowell), one of the perpetrators, is getting married. This urges her to devise a new plan to take the ultimate revenge.

The trailer suggests that Cassie is out to kill unsuspecting "nice guys". It's easy to deem the protagonist as a psychopath as some would assume, but do not let this deceive you for there is quite a lot to unpack in this compelling film. Let's start with the beginning:

Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube
Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube


Off the bat, the film opens by putting a spotlight on men with CharlieXCX's "Boys" playing in the background while men risquély dance at a club. Then it proceeds to show Cassie who is drunkenly slumped on a seat just across three men in business suits. They easily spot the helpless protagonist and scorn her current state. Immediately, one of the men insists that Cassie is "asking for it" and that she is putting herself in danger. All the while, the men also see this as a "challenge". Soon, one of them decides to swoop in and speak with Cassie. Jerry (Adam Brody) then offers to share a ride home.

Just a few minutes into the movie and two issues have already been depicted on screen, the second being the issue of consent which happens when Cassie is sharing a ride with Jerry. He changes his mind and asks her if she wants to go to his place. Before she could even answer, Jerry orders the driver to change his destination. Although the driver gives Jerry a suspicious stare through the rearview mirror, still, he drives them to the perpetrator's home. There, Jerry takes advantage of Cassie. Despite showing confusion, Jerry doesn't stop. Repeatedly, Cassie asks, "What are you doing?".

Then, Cassie stares right through the ceiling as if she's gazing at the film's audience. She asks one more time, only this time sounding clearheaded. Then she sits up to look at Jerry—and at the audience once more—to repeat her question. At this point, we can assume that the audience holds a valuable role in the film.

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Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube
Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube


It's quite interesting how the men in Promising Young Woman are played by popular actors who are known for playing the awkward nice guys. We see Adam Brody fromThe O.C., Veep's Sam Richardson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad, and Bo Burnham from Eighth Grade to name a few. This shows the film's stance on the "entitled nice guy".

The film almost convinces the audience that Ben was different from the men Cassie had known. The protagonist initially hesitates but falls for Ben anyway. Soon, they ignore other shoppers at a store as the new couple sing along and they spend most of their time at home. But once the story appears to be light and romantic, the film fazes the audience by revealing Ben (played by Bo Burnham) to be part of Nina's traumatic experience. 

Promising Young Woman also sheds light on how some women would act in these circumstances. Anticipating the support of other women especially in traumatic situations like abuse or harassment is natural. One would think that other women would understand the troubles of another woman—the kind of trouble that is amplified by gender issues—but the film shows otherwise. Instead, Madison (played by Allison Brie), Cassie's friend from college, refuses to believe the truth. When Cassie invites her to reunite over a meal, she realises that Madison still has not changed her mind and refuses to think otherwise.

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Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube
Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube

If there are other things to admire about the film, it would be its irony.

Hearing the exasperation in Carey Mulligan's voice in every confrontational scene adds to her character's frustration over the people responsible for Nina's death. But it is her playfulness during intense scenes that show true dominance—her character knows that she is in control—as seen in her conversation with the school admin or with Ben after exposing him.

This also mirrors the protagonist's wardrobe throughout the film. From the beginning, Cassie wears nothing but bright-coloured outfits. Even until the concluding part, Cassie embraces this and dons a nurse costume with a colourful wig. To further celebrate this femininity, the film includes iconic tracks by female artists. From CharlieXCX's upbeat and sweet-toned "Boys" to Britney Spear's "Toxic".

It's not surprising that Promising Young Woman and the cast have already received several nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild among others.

Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube
Photo: Promising Young Woman / YouTube


When Cassie showed up at Al's bachelor's party, she already knew her fate. After drugging the rest of the men downstairs and cuffing Al to the bed, Cassie reminds Al about what they had done to Nina. She even threatens Al with a scalpel, gesturing to cut him up but Al pulls free from the cuff. And for two-painful-minutes, we see Al suffocate Cassie to death. The next morning, just hours before the wedding, Al and Joe burn Cassie's body just as fast as they buried Nina at the back of their minds. They proceed with the wedding and everything goes well until police sirens start wailing in the background. Turns out, Cassie had devised a plan to finally bring Nina justice.

But as the men responsible for Nina and Cassie's demise are getting arrested, people still find the ending appalling.

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As much as we wanted to see an ending where Cassie lives to celebrate the victory of every woman whom these pompous men have—or would have harmed—the film's writer and director Emerald Fennell won't allow it. In fact, the original ending Fennell wanted for Promising Young Woman was even darker. Either way, we were never going to see Cassie standing with her own two feet with a proud smile on her face.

The film's ending evokes dissatisfaction for its audience. In truth, what's most disturbing about Promising Young Woman's ending is its resemblance to reality. There have been many cases where the victim is often dismissed until the thought is buried deep into the back of people's minds. The truth only ever comes out when it's all too late and this, too, rarely occurs. Which makes Promising Young Woman's ending so disturbing.

So if you don't agree with the ending or if it had left you speechless, then the film has successfully served its purpose.


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