Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dé a Diablo Cody su deuda

I am not Charlie Kaufman or Sofia Coppola (much as I supplicate at their Cannes-weary feet.) I'm not Paul Thomas Anderson. I'm not even Paul W.S. Anderson. I am middle-class trash from the Midwest. I'm a competent nonfiction writer, an admittedly green screenwriter, and a product of Hollywood, USA. I am "Diablo Cody" and if you're not a fan, go rent PROSPERO'S BOOKS again and leave me the fuck alone.

Indeed, at this moment of time, three years after the wide success of JUNO, one month after the abrupt cancellation announcement of "THE UNITED STATES OF TARA", and a hypothetical three months before the first open screenings of her newest screenplay collaboration with director Jason Reitman, the territorial battle lines over the most visibly successful (and well-compensated) female screenwriter in Hollywood are in essentially the same place: there is the contingent that takes pleasure in her loquacious characters, in the same manner that previous generations lapped up the urbane banter of Preston Sturges or Hal Hartley, and the immovable regiment that insists her career advancement is due only to a series of fornicate events that would make Xaviera Hollander look like a Lutheran minister. And much like 9/11 Truthers or Obama Birthers, there is no reasoning with the latter camp, because as writer/entrepreneur Tim Ferriss said on Chris Hardwick's Nerdist podcast, "You can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reason themselves into."

I have been privileged to keep company with Diablo Cody in the past, and on at least one occasion she actively promoted an event of mine, so I am not here to play august scholar on why she is in fact a vital and welcome voice in Hollywood, because the opposition can rightfully say I do not have enough critical distance from my subject. It's pretty obvious my opinion is prejudiced at best. But I can point to stuff in her work that has stuck with me long after viewing it, and say why it is good, and hope that I've earned enough trust with you that you'll believe it as the voice of a film lover and not a sycophant.

Let's start with the big one, the gold winner. Something that few people have ever picked up on in the ongoing debate about JUNO is the unique nature of the friendship between Juno and her best friend Leah (played by the criminally underrated Olivia Thirlby). Leah, by all outward appearances, is the more classically attractive girl, is on the cheerleading squad...in a typical Hollywood film, she would be the protagonist, and Juno would be the wacky bohemian sidekick, and of course there would be the standard boilerplate "ABC AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL" conflicts over her being prettier or more popular that would launch the third act. Cody not only flips the paradigm by making Leah the sidekick, she also flattens it by never making their differences an issue - there is no heavyhanded preaching about how misfits and princesses can get along: they just do. Juno is doing her thing, Leah hers, and they have their happy common ground. In fact, there's no hackneyed teen conflicts anywhere in the environment: even when Juno is speculating about the buried lust that hot girls have for older teachers, it's from a state of precocious amusement and not hostility. There are some high school environments where everyone may not be friends, but no one is actively starting shit either: the organism works. Coming from my own experience of high school, which started out with some hazing but ultimately settled into an easygoing mutual acceptance, it's nice to see that represented on screen.

As for the often-maligned follow-up screenplay, JENNIFER'S BODY, while I don't think it's effective as a horror film, it is definitely entertaining as a seriocomic metaphor on how troublesome it is to extricate yourself from a bad friendship. Unlike the dynamic between Juno and Leah, the relationship between Needy and Jennifer is a definitely one-sided one, even before the incident that turns Jennifer into a flesh-hungry succubus, with Jennifer getting all the benefits. Yet for as long as she can stand it, Needy stays loyal to Jennifer. Most readings of the film suggest that this is partly a romantic motivation - at a recent screening hosted by maverick San Francisco programmer Jesse Ficks, Cody openly declared as such, though in an interview with the website AfterEllen, she was able to go at length and describe it as less of a lesbian attraction and more of a simple teenage intensity, of being so enamored of your best friend you want to bond with them in as many ways possible [Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES explores this concept also]. But I also saw in Needy the feeling that she's Jennifer's only good influence, that as long as she is there to be her Jiminy Cricket, Jennifer can never be all bad. I'm sheepish but not ashamed to say I stayed in some long bad friendships for the same reasons: When you side with a man, you stay with him. And if you can't do that, you're like some animal - you're finished!. And sure enough, Jennifer does not "stay" with Needy, and she does become an animal, feeding herself on Needy's clothes, then her man, and ultimately Needy herself, until she finally summons the strength to end this otherworldly power grab. But even after that, when their friendship is decisively over (the manner in which I won't detail lest I rile the Spoiler Police), Needy stays loyal to Jennifer's memory by hunting down the treacherous parties that caused her demonic possession in the first place. As wily ol' Sam Spade once said, in perhaps the first cinematic explanation of "bro's before ho's", "When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it." Again, Cody spins the gender around, throws in some blood and bon mots, and makes it fresh.

For reasons of my own legal protection, I can't provide any of the specific details as to why I am about to state that on Febrary 27, 2012, Diablo Cody will likely have another molten gold humanoid holding court in her home. Just know that I would never make that kind of brash statement without something to back it up. Watch this space.

Well, you are 33 today, Ms. Cody. You have outlived Christ, Hicks, Belushi, and Bangs, and I'm certain your generous words of dialogue are going to live a lot longer than the gutteral words of diatribe the haters still fill their favorite echochamber messageboards with. Happy Birthday from another arguably competent nonfiction writer from the Midwest.


  1. matthew david wilderJune 14, 2011 at 8:17 AM

    Oh, you're in love with the Diablo! We all are! Well, the good people are. There are those envious evil witches who resent her success, fancy friends, and gift of gab. Too bad!

    I will always love her for being very kind to me when she was my editor at Minneapolis City Pages. She was the TV editor. The film editor was a sociopath who tortured me. The Diablito wrote me notes like these: "OMG Wilder this piece is awesome! U rock! Smilyface emoticon!" That always felt good--after the other douche castigated me for misspelling "Manoel de Oliviera."

    And I sent her the script of "Your Name Here" and she sent me a script called "Junebug." This makes me a little verklemt but--she wrote, "Mine's not as good as yours, but people seem to like it. It's a comedy about teenage girls. It got me outta my day job." The rest is Oscar history, ladies and gentlemen!

    Lastly, people should read her not at all cute, not at all fuzzy memoir of being a stripper. I think it is her most amazing writing to date. It's like Kubrick meets Sassy magazine. Go Amazon it!

  2. yeah? you're saying she's gonna get another Oscar?

    I'm excited to see what else she has coming. I know she wrote "Young Adult" starring Charlize Theron, which comes out later. I look forward to that... I haven't heard about other projects in the pipeline yet.

  3. P.S love the photo of you both. She seems so nice and down to earth. Hope I can meet her one day.

  4. I always thought Leah would be the bitchy antagonist to Juno's only-sane-woman-in-the-room protaganist. But yours is good too.

    You two look adorable.

  5. Cool post. Cody sure has a lotta publicity for a screenwriter. It's pretty impressive.