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  • Writer's pictureStand-Up Comedy Historian

Dr. Ryan Cooper in Promising Young Woman Is Complicated: A thread published on Twitter on 4/24/22

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

While Bo’s fame has continued to grow with Inside and Rothaniel, I’d like to take some time to discuss one of his more controversial roles in the past few years.

Tomorrow (4/25) is also the one-year anniversary of the Bo coffee clip being shown at the Oscars (wow, time flies)!

Here’s a vid I took of that bizarre choice by the Academy.

Anyway, with Ryan sipping Cassie's spit in his coffee cup and his other adorkable qualities, writer/director Emerald Fennell appears to be playing with and subverting the tropes of the modern romantic male lead.

Of course, this all comes crashing down in the third act, but the question is WHY do we fall in love so quickly before the reveal?

This series of tweets succinctly summarizes everyone's experience

The viewer realizes by the end that Ryan is an irredeemable piece of shit (three chances to make things right, and he fails all of them).

But I would argue there are four major reasons you want Ryan to be the good guy (and why his participation is even MORE devastating): drinking culture, clothing, lighting/color palette, and his personality.

Let's dive in!

1. Alcohol and PYW

As Emerald points out again and again, rape culture and drinking culture are inextricably linked in society and, thus, alcohol plays a significant role in the film.

Everyone we meet is drinking in PYW, be it kumquat liquor, wine, vodka, or champagne...

EXCEPT for Ryan Cooper!

We only see him with alcohol once in the film (red wine when he meets Cassie's parents).

I just wanted to add one note here: Ryan does not drink alcohol, but he talks about going out for drinks with his friends AND he mentions going up for drinks on their first date.

The latter is one of many red-flag moments that doesn't register initially since Ryan backs off after Cassie's negative reaction.

Anyway, all of his other drinks, coffee and soda, align him with Cassie.

Cassie does not drink to excess, even though she pretends to be too drunk to stand for her missions.

Otherwise, she drinks coffee or ginger ale in the movie (and a juice box lol).

And when the two go on their first date at a diner, it's as wholesome as can be with two glasses of Coke with red straws —providing 1950s Americana vibes.

2. Clothing

Speaking of how chaste their relationship is (they are literally fully clothed in all of the bed scenes haha), the second element that plays into our expectations with Ryan is his clothing.

Ryan dresses in a clean-cut and preppy fashion (sweaters, button ups, etc.).

While the viewer initially thinks Ryan is nonthreatening because of his clothes (no black leather jackets here!), it later is revealed that the other partiers wear polo shirts (aligning Ryan with Al and Joe visually).

3. Lighting/color palette

Related to his clothes, Ryan's preferred colors (blue and green) make him appear traditionally masculine against Cassie's bright pinks.

Cassie even starts to incorporate blue into her outfits while she is dating Ryan!

And the lighting is SO flattering on Bo in the first half of the film, it's no wonder viewers fall in love with Ryan in the same way Cassie does (his blue eyes really POP as well).

Ryan looks decidedly less handsome as he repeatedly lies about Cassie to save himself.

In the original screenplay, Emerald includes notes about Ryan's headspace once the truth is discovered by Cassie.

When Ryan meets with the detective, the script says the following:

He stops. If he’s honest he could be hugely compromised. They could find the video. What he’s about to say is terrible.

And again when the detective mentions self-harm, Ryan sees a way out of his problems:

This is the get out RYAN needs. He’s happy to believe it too. It’ll absolve him. He can be the good guy again.

4. Ryan's personality

The largest factor as to why audiences fall in love is personality.

Despite his milquetoast looks, Ryan is charming with a sardonic sense of humor that matches Cassie's (the herpes and leukemia joke at the hospital and the DJ joke at dinner come to mind). We've been conditioned to admire those particular traits in leading men.

And that shift from the good guy kissing Cassie to an irredeemable monster is exactly the point—it's not as clear-cut as we'd like, and everyone plays a role in rape culture, especially those who say nothing.

Bo himself puts it best in this interview about the "nice guy" in media:

There are gradient levels of being complicit. It needs to be a conversation about the guy that just like politely laughs and looks down at his feet as much as it has to be [a conversation] about the criminal psychopaths. It's just that defensiveness, and I've been defensive.

I’ve felt like, 'Wait, I'm a good guy. I'm one of the good ones.' But there's really no cisgender, heterosexual men that [shouldn’t be part] of the conversation.

I hope you've enjoyed this deep-dive thread about Ryan Cooper!

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