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Carey Mulligan Rightly Called Out This Disgustingly Sexist Review of Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan as Cassie in PromisingYoung Woman stands in the middle of a road, holding a crowbar.

Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman was always going to be divisive. The movie seemed designed to spark debates and with that, we were bound to get some bad takes. But I guess I was naive in hoping we could get through this discourse without any overt misogyny.

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In a review of the film published on Variety, critic Dennis Harvey chose to display a total misunderstanding not just of the film, but of sexual assault in general.

In Promising Young Woman, Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, who spends her weekends going out to clubs and bars and pretending to be too drunk to even keep her eyes open, let alone consent to sex. Without fail, some “nice guy” always comes over to check on her and help her get home, at which point they then try to assault her.

Harvey’s big issue with this is that as he sees it, Mulligan doesn’t look like someone he thinks that would happen too, and he can’t help but wonder if someone like producer Margot Robbie might be more realistic in the role.

“Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale — Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her. Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on,” writes Harvey.

It is truly amazing that even today, there are still men who think being raped is the same thing as being desired, making sexual assault something akin to a compliment.

That review was from the movie’s premiere at Sundance in January of this year. It now carries an editor’s apology at the top, but that wasn’t added until last week, eleven full months after it was first published.

The apology comes after Carey Mulligan herself called out the review in an interview with the New York Times

“’I read the Variety review, because I’m a weak person,’ Mulligan said. ‘And I took issue with it.’ She paused, debating whether she really wanted to go there. ‘It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse,’ she said, finally,” writes the Times.

I don’t know what the world looks like to someone who doesn’t think Carey Mulligan is a drop-dead gorgeous human being but also that is so far from being the point!

Here’s what Mulligan said about it:

Mulligan can still recite some of the lines from that review. But she said, “It wasn’t some sort of ego-wounding thing — like, I fully can see that Margot Robbie is a goddess.” What bothered Mulligan most was that people might read a high-profile critique of any actress’s physical appearance and blithely accept it: “It drove me so crazy. I was like, ‘Really? For this film, you’re going to write something that is so transparent? Now? In 2020?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”

It’s all the more ironic for Mulligan because “Promising Young Woman” explicitly grapples with the litany of cultural expectations about how a woman ought to look and behave. There’s even a man who calls Cassie beautiful and then, in the same breath, gives her a disingenuous lecture about why she’s wearing too much makeup.

“We don’t allow women to look normal anymore, or like a real person,” Mulligan said. “Why does every woman who’s ever onscreen have to look like a supermodel? That has shifted into something where the expectation of beauty and perfection onscreen has gotten completely out of control.”

It sure would be nice if 2021 was the year major publications stopped publishing glaringly sexist takes on feminist works. We can dream.

(image: Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Features)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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