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?

Can We Talk About...Kerry Washington?

I'd like to welcome you to the first installment in what I hope is many in a segment I like to call
Can We Talk About..
Here, I will highlight a rising actor/actress/director/etc whose level of fame does not yet match their enormous talent and potential. To get the ball rolling, I've chosen none other than the lovely and talented...

Kerry Washington

D.O.B: January 31, 1977, Bronx, New York

Where you know her from: Ray, Mr. And Mrs. Smith (blink and you'll miss her), the Fantastic 4 Movies, Little Man, The Last King of Scotland

Ideal Career Trajectory: Angela Bassett, pre-What's Love Got to Do With It?
Worst Case Scenario: Angela Bassett, post-What's Love Got to Do With It?

The Rundown:

Beautiful? Check.
Talented? Check.
Young? Check.
White? Not so much.

And sadly in this game, Kerry, the last question is worth the most about of points, therefore making the first three questions meaningless. Yes, you happen to be something other than white, which means that Hollywood will not really know what to do with you. I was by no means picking on Angela Bassett. She's not one of my personal favorites, but she is talented and I think what has happened to her career kind of sucks. Things have gotten so bad for Angela Bassett, that she's been forced to (gasp) star in a Tyler Perry movie. All I can hope for you, Ms. Washington, who has dazzled in indies such as Lift and Our Song is that perhaps Hollywood and the world has changed enough that you won't suffer the same fate. Even in the critically panned She Hate Me, you showed a ferocity and intensity that only hints at your full potential. I pray that you take us there once more.

The Solution:

This is a tough one. I know the good roles for black actresses are few and far between, so I can maybe forgive...scratch that. No I can't. I Think I Love My Wife? Fantastic 4?! Little Man?!!!! This is madness and it must end. Steer clear of Chris Rock (who's funny enough when he's doing stand-up, but whose humor has not translated well to film since CB4) and the Wayans Brothers (who, on their best day, can barely muster a half-hearted chuckle from me). I can kind of forgive thankless bit parts in films like Mr. And Mrs. Smith, but don't make a habit of it. At this point, I'd almost advocate avoiding supporting turns in films like Ray and The Last King of Scotland as well, where you're almost guaranteed to be overshadowed by leading men. But whatever you do, please, please PLEASE don't let Tyler Perry get his hands on you. I don't think I could handle it.

Stop..... The........ MADNESS!!!!!!

What the Future Holds:

If a glimpse at 2008 is any indication, it looks to be an interesting and fruitful year, at the very least. I'm intrigued by Life is Hot in Cracktown, which is on my list of most-anticipated films of the year and uses the criss-crossing narrative approach to tell the story of how crack-cocaine became a widespread problem. But the film that has me the most excited is Lakeview Terrace, with co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Patrick Wilson, where Washington plays one half of an interracial couple who is being terrorized by a black, racist LAPD officer. And it's directed by Neil LaBute, who, if you ignore 2006's abysmal remake of The Wicker Man, is often a force to be reckoned with when it comes to good, character-driven filmmaking. Let's keep our fingers


Okay, so I started a blog. I just felt inspired. Rather than beginning by telling you what this blog is going to be, I'll tell you what it's NOT going to be.

This is not going to be a personal, overblown, "life is passing me by, someone please rescue me," liverjournal-bullshitty-blog. For instance, I promise you that one thing you will never see on this blog is:

Current mood: apathetic
Currently watching: One Tree Hill
Currently listening to: Evanescence (they're so deep. they speak to my soul)

I will rarely, if ever, get THAT personal. This blog is dedicated mostly to my
random insights/observations into the film world and pop culture at large. I am, if nothing else, a lover of film. It occupies much of my thoughts/spare time (should I be worried?) Anyhow, I'm still new at this, but I'm trying to make it at least somewhat structured--I'm a believer in organized chaos. There are segments that are going to repeat themselves weekly, and of course, I'll update with any film reviews or random thoughts I have about any and everything. That's a pretty good mission statement, I think. I'm also aware that just starting out, I'll probably be the only person reading this for a while. So hello to my current audience! I hope to hear from you.