Friday, February 29, 2008

Pop Culture Phenom: Diablo Cody

Every so often, I'll be doing a snapshot of a cultural phenomenon, who (love 'em or hate 'em) I just find interesting. This time, I'll be tackling the perceived anomaly that is Diablo Cody, who just won an Oscar for penning the screenplay for Juno this past Sunday.

Real Name: Brooke Busey-Hunt
D.O.B: June 14, 1978 in Chicago, Illionis
In 10 Words or Less: Stripper turned blogger turned Oscar-winning screenwriter.

I'll admit right away that I liked Juno, which may garner me sneers or smiles depending on who I'm talking to. I liked it. I did not love it. I certainly would not have placed it on the best picture shortlist for 2007. In a weaker year, such as 2005, which allowed the mediocre Munich to be nominated for Best Picture and the even more mediocre Crash to take top honors, perhaps Juno would have been up there. But not in 2007, which was a banner year for cinema that birthed such offerings as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and a little Irish yarn called Once. And since 2007 was such a great year, Diablo Cody's inevitable win did not bother me THAT much, mainly because for the first time in...let's just say a while, the Academy actually picked mostly deserving winners in all of the top categories. I had no qualms with No Country for Old Men winning best picture, director or adapted screenplay. I was thrilled with all of the acting winners, with the exception of Marion Cotillard and that was mostly because I was rooting hard for Julie Christie. It was an oddly strong year for film.

Nevertheless, I find Diablo Cody, the woman and the mythos (which are both largely self-constructed) to be an utterly fascinating study in popular culture. The buzz for Juno built so steadily, from the Toronto International Film Festival where Roger Ebert gave that first glowing review, to its slow but effective rollout. As expected, the film has made a star out of its leading lady, Ellen Page. I've loved her for years and I'm very glad she's garnered notoriety, though I do have mixed feelings about the movie that got her here. But it's a rare thing for a film to make a star out of its screenwriter, especially when that screenwriter is not the director. Regardless of what you think of Juno, Diablo Cody must be credited for the culture-savvy person that she is. Consider this whole "hey, I used to be a stripper," angle. It may seem that Cody herself is trying to distance herself from it, but the stripper story is (at least partly) what made her. I personally don't buy the whole "don't define me as an ex-stripper anymore" thing she's got going on now, especially given that she published a memoir on that same topic. Her blog, with its attention-grabbing name, "The Pussy Ranch," positioned her as the hipster chick to beat all hipster chicks. That idea of the alternative, the fringe, the outsider worming its way into our movie theaters and eventually our hearts.

Truth be told, I actually thought that Juno's screenplay was the weakest aspect of the film. Too smart for its own good, too self-consciously quirky and a little too cutesy by about a half. The pop-culture laden dialogue really wouldn't have bothered me that much, but when she's tripping over her own references, it's time to edit. Seriously, Ms. Cody, how hard would it have been to look up the cast of The Bone Collector and see that it was Denzel Washington, not Morgan Freeman. "Thundercats are go?" Strange. I always thought it was "Thundercats ho!" Unless you're talking about "Thunderbirds are go," which I suppose would have worked as well (yes, I'm a big nerd. I'm well aware). The bottom-line is this, Ms. Cody: When you're having your pop-culture references corrected by me, an unassuming Canadian film student who's more than eight years your junior, maybe you should look it up, or better yet dial it back a bit and not use it at all.

That was snarky, wasn't it? Let me reiterate that I don't hate Juno or Diablo Cody. I think that there are a lot of similarities between Cody and Callie Khouri, the Academy-Award winning screenwriter of a little film called Thelma and Louise. The similarities are quite glaring, when you get down to it. Both are female screenwriters with modest beginnings who wrote zeitgeist-y, feminist(?), Academy-Award nominated films directed by men (Jason Reitman and Ridley Scott, respectively), with Academy-Award nominated female leads (Thelma and Louise actually boasts two). This is what makes me a little unsure about Cody's future. Because following her screenplay win for Thelma and Louise, Khouri would go on to write and direct Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and her most recent offering, the critical and commercial flop that was Mad Money. Yikes. Maybe, in the age where film production and distribution have changed so rapidly, Cody won't suffer the same fate. I hope she doesn't. I pray she doesn't. And I'm actually rooting for her to do better her next time at bat. Her upcoming projects include a series for Showtime called The United States of Tara starring Toni Collette and a horror movie titled Jennifer's Body, with the chick from the Transformers movie whose name I can't be bothered to look up. Sounds promising enough, right? Let's hope so. Because if Khouri is any indication, we'll be seeing Cody in ten years, writing and directing the latest Amanda Bynes romantic comedy, staring at her Oscar pensively and wondering where the time went.

From this...

To this....

Is this Cody's future?

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