How Not To Like Diablo Cody The Right Way
It is perfectly fine by me if you aren’t a fan of Diablo Cody’s oeuvre. Truth be told, I’m not fan of her writing, either – but I’m fascinated by watching her evolve and work, and I’m even more fascinated by the way in which people criticize her, because 90% of the time, it smacks of being sexist.
Maybe it was something about the bold, brassy character she presented to the world-at-large in a pre-Gaga sphere of popular culture, with the release of Juno. ‘A woman who’d been a stripper wins an Oscar? She changed her named from something familiar to something different? SCANDALMAKERS, PARTY OF ONE.’ Even as I scowled while she accepted her Oscar for best original screenplay, I was also scowling at her detractors: they were ripping her apart for perceived flaws in her character as a woman, not for her shortcomings as a film-maker.
In a strange way, I was reminded of the response to James Cameron’s win for Titanic. There was a sly arching of the brow, and fond chatter about his megalomania when the would-be King of The World took to the stage, braying. But his technical prowess and impressive, imaginative scope seemed to excuse all, even his nasty habit of seemingly marrying a woman for the duration of whatever film of his they happened to be working on together.
While Cameron’s genius has always been in the more-is-more school of film-making, Cody’s lies in her careful and consistent play with the English language. I don’t think it’s fair to say that just because you don’t care for her particular vein of made-up-indie-vernacular-as-hep-trend she’s a bad writer. Frankly, I think anyone writing for the screen who gives as much thought to how its characters speak is an asset to Hollywood, regardless of how unappealing the slang-heavy badinage of her aesthetic is to me, personally.
Critics and audiences alike (one of the most over-used phrases of all writing, regarding film or television) have responded well to what I’ll call language-play positively in the past. Look at Rian Johnson’s 2005 release, Brick. In addition to serving up a steaming-hot plate of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the powers-that-be nearly wet themselves; so great was their delight in the film’s scrappy neo-noir use of language. By that token, there are much more legitimate ways of being critical of Cody without falling prey to the tired notion that popular culture is crass and undeserving of any sort of artistic use or examination.
I want to believe that people aren’t ripping her apart for daring to write a comedy about teenage pregnancy and the issues surrounding it – abortion and adoption and sex – but I have a hard time believing that to be the case. If you want to be critical of Juno, I fully get that. The story takes advantage of tropes sure to push buttons, and once it’s gotten you in the theatre, placates you with what you’ve come to expect from this sort of story. The only thing shocking about Juno was the strident conservative edge all dressed up like glib outre social commentary. (Also how she made the Moldy Peaches Mainstream. I’m sorry, hipster-speak done.)
If you’re whining about her slang, you’re underestimating her as a writer, and you might want to re-evaluate why you’re doing that, because it may well be because of her vagina. That said, if you want to whine about her over-use of nostalgia, I might just join you, but we’ve got to admit that with the reprogramming of VH1 and the advent of the “I Love the Decade” generation, this is a bugaboo that’s here to stay.
My main grievance with Cody is my niggling belief that she treats every project as an exercise for her next. I think this is the clearest in the failed United States of Tara. There were aspects of the show that really resonated with me, but at the end of the day, the series revealed itself to be a playground for characters and ideas, which does the medium of television a grave disservice. Don’t hate the United States of Tara because because it handled risque material and psychological taboos, and prominently featured cake-sitting. Instead, hate it because they wasted Eddie Izzard and Toni Collete, and because such wonderfully-acted and potentially rich characters were set spinning in a mad, directionless way by a writer who didn’t understand the critical difference between television and film: Film, like the stage, is a place where we are ushered into characters’ lives for a specific reason or an event. Television just plain ushers you into a life and, frankly, that’s a lot tougher to write well. Tara failed because Cody was stuck looking for the event of each episode. And also because it took her the first half of a her first season to realize that she had not written any internal conflict into the Gregson family – something we all paid the price for dearly when it occurred to her that this was necessary in season 2.
I don’t think it’s fair to review a film before it’s been released, so I’m staying mum on Young Adult – which I’m sure our sassy Editrix will review, ASAP. The only thing I’d like to mention is culled from the trailers. I think more should be said about Diablo Cody’s ‘thing’ about physically attractive women who are total, awful messes. These women are typically called out on their shit and then saved by Patton Oswalt. This is the closest ladies have to a male equivalent of the Manic, Pixie Dream Girl…which is, hilarious, but also as disheartening a misuse and underestimation of the fullness of another human being as any Clementine come before. I think these two relationships (Charmaine and Neil in Tara, and Mavis and Matt in the upcoming Young Adult) are the closest we get to the real emotional meat Cody has to offer about a very different sort of “troubled hot woman”. That’s exciting to me, because it demonstrates growth on her part. She attempted this before in Jennifer’s Body, but missed the mark by aiming for something akin to mission-based camp.
While I’m not a fan of hers at the present moment, I have watched, and will continue to watch, her development with interest. She is stellar at creating emotional moment-to-moment work, but fails at creating the unique, norm-subverting universes that she seems to promise in her language-play.