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From ‘The OC’ To ‘Promising Young Woman’: How Adam Brody Went From Nice Guy To 'Nice Guy'

By Lindsay Traves | Film | December 28, 2020 |

By Lindsay Traves | Film | December 28, 2020 |


If you saw Adam Brody on the street, even if you knew his entire filmography, you would probably shout “Seth!” His time as Seth Cohen on The OC cemented Brody as a household heartthrob. There, he was everyone’s favorite cute dork, just a quirk away from being the leading man. The warmth and disarming aura that Brody exudes made him perfect for such an adorable role. But years after his long stint on the teen soap, Brody has done something new. Never afraid of being typecast and knowing his “limitations as an actor,” Brody did something different with his natural warmth, he used it to subvert our expectations by playing Nice Guys in female-fronted horror flicks, like Jennifer’s Body, Ready Or Not and Promising Young Woman.

A couple of years into his The OC tenure, Brody showed up as a loudmouth target in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Though not the large role that gave Courtney Cox her flip from Monica Gellar to Gale Weathers, Brody got to flex a new muscle, one that made you want to flick him off of you like a gnat, one that only worked because, up until then, he had been the sweet Seth Cohen. Then, he turned the tables on his casting niche.

Stuck in our brains as loveable, Brody took on roles as a sexy band member, the cute brother-in-law of your evil new family, and the good dude who just wants to get you home safely from the bar. Years of being just the nicest guy, Brody is perfectly suited to play the Nice Guy, the type of dude who thinks that his base level of acceptable behavior entitles him to his own desires, consensually or otherwise.

Brody showed up in the feminist cult favorite, Jennifer’s Body. Maybe still high on the adrenaline of playing the target in a Fight Club tee shirt, Brody gave us his best unlikable band member in the vein of Adam Levine. In a dingy bar, Brody sits quietly off to the side as the “extra salty” bandmate who lures the unsuspecting townie girl with his charms, heroically rescues her from a fire, then violently sacrifices her for a chance at fame.

“Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There are so many of us, and we’re all so cute and it’s like if you don’t get on Letterman or some ***** soundtrack, you’re screwed, okay? Satan is our only hope. We’re working with the beast now. And we’ve got to make a really big impression on him. And to do that, we’re going to have to butcher you. And bleed you.”

Would the street savvy Jennifer Check have trusted the evil skeeze, Nikolai, if he didn’t reek of Nice Guy, Adam Brody? Probably not. And the audience wouldn’t have, either.

Brody came back in one of the best horror flicks of 2019, the Samara Weaving led Ready or Not. Finding herself in a deadly game of hide and seek led by her new eccentric in-laws, Grace (breakout star Samara Weaving) has to fend for herself. Of course, there’s her new brother-in-law, Daniel (Brody). Daniel steals glances, recoils at his family’s jarring comments about Grace’s social status, and wears the hell out of a button down and an untied bowtie. He disarms Grace and the audience by always appearing conflicted and like he might care about her with his warm gaze and upturned eyebrows. Grace trusts him, him being the most relatable relative of the ice-cold bunch, eventually pleading to him, “You’re a really good guy,” when he’s got the drop on her. However, he’s not. He’s the type of good guy who shouts, “She’s in the study!” to his hunting family. He’s the type of Nice Guy who says, “They’re just trying to figure out if you’re a gold-digging whore. You know, like my wife.”

Though his later gambit sets off saving Grace, Daniel only does so after years of disillusionment caused him to assist in the murder of his own extended family. Brody’s warm persona has us consider Daniel an ally, though he’s done almost nothing to suggest he’s anything more than an heir to a cursed fortune up until he uses his toned shoulders to shield Grace from a gunshot. Would Grace have trusted her new relative to save her from an entire clan of psycho killers if he didn’t spray the scent of just the nicest dude? Probably not, and we wouldn’t have either.

Exploiting his warmth for convincing Nice Guys, now comes Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman. Pledging to slaughter what you think you know about predators by putting the Nice Guy on blast, Fennell carefully cast her gaggle of douches to subvert our expectations. Naturally, Brody opens the film.

Standing around a bar with his white-collar male colleagues, Jerry (Brody) seems the least invested in a conversation about their female co-worker’s complaints of sexism. When the guys spot a seemingly drunk woman (Carey Mulligan), they encourage each other to approach her in ways that both criticize her inebriation and revel at the opportunity it poses. Acting repulsed by his cohorts crass comments, Jerry takes on the task, insisting he is just going to get her home safely with an air of heroism at being the stand-up guy. Brody’s natural charm makes it easy to not notice that he doesn’t stop to challenge his friends’ perverted cheering him on in this sexual exploit. Jerry, slips her into a car home before altering course to take her to his place. He plies her with more cocktails, insists she’s safe with him. He’s a nice guy, he insists, while slipping off her underwear as she attempts to decline. Here, Cassie (Mulligan) proves to be savvier than much of the audience, those of us who sense danger in Cassie’s situation but still consider that Brody does seem like a good dude. Yet his intentions are no different than the boys at the bar. Promising Young Woman. used Brody’s natural charm and the goodwill of his persona as the perfect bait, giving us the ultimate portrayal of the Nice Guy.

When he dangled upside down to kiss his girl like Spider-man, Adam Brody made an entire generation swoon. Then, he shocked us with a string of roles in female-led horror, challenging our expectations. He’s truly been just a stand-up guy by using what he’s got, not to play boring heartthrobs, but unsuspecting baddies who don’t demand the spotlight and let the gals shine. Perhaps in the most tangible move of being the real-life nicest guy, Brody has used his goods to play the kind of roles that bolster the effectiveness of female lead horror films by playing convincing versions of the Nice Guy.

Promising Young Woman opens in theaters on Christmas Day.

Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.

Lindsay Traves is a Toronto-based writer. After submitting her Bachelor’s thesis, “The Metaphysics of Schwarzenegger Movies,” she decided to focus on writing about her passions; sci-fi, horror, sports, and comic books. You can find her writing on Daily Dead, CGMagazine, What to Watch,, and Bloody Disgusting and can follow her work on Twitter @smashtraves.

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