Diablo Cody can’t help herself, in life and in the films that she has written, produced, and sometimes directed. A one time stripper and subsequent sex phone operator, the star Hollywood provocateur has made a name for herself in developing characters for the big screen who refuse to capitulate to conservative gender norms and expectations. Through characters like Juno MacGuff, in Jason Reitman’s sophomore outing Juno, Cody has distilled the rebellious nature so ingrained within herself as it is reflected in the world around her, with Ellen Page playing the quintessentially spunky, fiery libido of what viewers must assume comes pretty close to a much younger Cody personified.
Following on the heels of such an early creative success, in Jennifer’s Body, the horror genre is turned on its head in the service of mocking and satirizing the objectification of the female body within the very same genre that the film itself is a part, and in effect becomes one of the greatest B-movies of the 2000s. Subsequently, with Young Adult and her directorial debut Paradise, Cody examines a much colder and less adaptable version of herself and a more sheltered and less rebellious alter-ego in kind. Both films exemplify Cody’s range as a screenwriter, specifically in the development of fully developed and nuanced characters for women who don’t conform to prim, housewife stereotypes.
And now, as of this past week, comes the latest film from the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Juno, Ricki and the Flash, which sees the notorious writer paired with the likewise critically acclaimed and well-lauded likes of actor Meryl Streep and director Jonathan Demme, in a film that has been nothing but the butt of many a dismissive and irascible joke since footage from the finished product was first revealed to the public. Demme’s recent partnership with Cody has resulted in a film that is by turns hilarious, heartfelt, but reportedly as self-indulgent and messy as the screenwriter herself has proven to be in the past eight odd years since her last universal hit with audiences everywhere. Streep’s performance is seemingly remarkable within a larger production that appears less than well delivered, but even the likes of the queen of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can’t save a flop from being a flop.
Which begs the question: Why does Cody so consistently craft poor narrative conceits from which her scripts struggle to surpass the morass of her regrettably inconsistent mind? Juno is an Oscar-winning fan favorite, but it has also become a joke ready for quick improvised riffing within counter-cultural comedy institutions, such as IFC’s Portlandia, and the years have not been kind to Cody personally, either.
Perhaps most notably, Seth MacFarlane cruelly skewered the works of Cody when the diabolical Stewie Griffin proclaims from the rooftop of the Family Guy manor that Cody is “a God-damned, overpriced Call Girl, who got lucky once.” Likewise, Adult Swim’s popular late-night program Robot Chicken features a crudely imagined rendition of a funeral where Cody delivers a slang-riddled eulogy, prompting the presumed-to-be-mourned to rise from the casket and ask that her eulogizer to please “shut the fuck up,” before bemoaning the very presence of the much scorned screenwriter for being in attendance at such a ceremony in the first place.
Based on such examples of popular culture where Cody has been satirized and lampooned ad nausea, perhaps the more pertinent question to ask now would be as follows: If Cody keeps getting work as a preeminent comedy writer and filmmaker in Hollywood, why does everyone appear to hate her with such vitriol? Love or hate Juno and all of the films that it gave birth to, Cody has proven herself as a writer of populist comedy who capably manages the task, however inconsistently, of producing films for the mainstream that simultaneously criticize and correct the behavior and attitudes of the viewers themselves. More so than any other successful comedy writer and producer currently working in Hollywood, Cody is the only one who has been able to walk the fine line between executive and artist, her work in film, as well as on television, indicative of an individual talent who has been able to survive in an industry that breeds on breaking the spirit of even the most headstrong and anarchic of souls. It makes her something of a counter-cultural hero and in an entirely un-ironic way.
Ricki and the Flash doesn’t look very good. Critical and viewer reaction has been in keeping with the larger body of Cody’s work as a screenwriter, and the likes of Streep and Demme don’t appear able to uplift the problems inherent to the film’s script. By all accounts, Cody’s latest appears destined for cultural and historical irrelevance within the next five years, marked down into perpetuity as more fire in the cannon with which to belittle and mock Cody’s self-established name and populist cache. Even if you never end up seeing the film, it’s doubtful that you won’t at some point within the next few years cite Cody’s fifth feature film work as one of the worst movies of the past five years.
But Cody is still exceptional. She consistently writes scripts according to her highly intelligent and independent disposition, and as such is able to consistently deliver pieces of work that her fans, wherever they might reside and however many there may still be, to enjoy and relate to in solidarity with her courageous refusal to conform. With so many easy, pre-packaged comedy products being churned out on a near monthly basis by Hollywood, it’s refreshing to know that Cody is still out there making movies about her troubled girl-children, a welcome respite and rhetorical retort to the likes of your The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Step Brothers in kind. Juno is one of the best independent comedies of the past ten years, and thank God it exists and that its screenwriter continues to write such challenging and complicated roles for women of all ages. Someone has to, and taking Cody’s work as an example for all of the future Juno MacGuffs out there, so can you.
Featured Image: TriStar Pictures