Dialogue: 'Young Adult' Writer Diablo Cody Strikes Back at the Haters

Dialogue: 'Young Adult' Writer Diablo Cody Strikes Back at the Haters

Dec 06, 2011

Diablo Cody (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)Screenwriter Diablo Cody snagged her first Oscar before the age of 30 for Juno, a movie that went from a film festival darling to snark target practice faster than previously thought possible. Cody has remained defiant in the face of such criticism and continues to draw from and contribute to pop culture in a most diabolically delicious way with projects like the Emmy-winning show United States of Tara and the high school body-horror flick Jennifer's Body. Body sank at the box office, but it definitely has a place in some horror-loving hearts -- and it stirred up quite a discussion among critics and feminists alike, as Cody so often does.

Cody's newest movie, Young Adult, reunites her with Juno director Jason Reitman, but that's where the similarity ends. Its unflinching take on the ugly lurking behind the perfect face of young adult author Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a Mean Girl turned Mean Woman, will definitely stir up conversation among critics and movie fans.

Movies.com met up with Diablo Cody for some one-on-one time to talk about what it's like to jump back into the Oscar fray, the Juno backlash, and why she's given up on trying to not make anyone mad.

Movies.com: Can you talk about that side of Mavis that makes her more than just kind of sociopathic?

Diablo Cody: [laughs] That's an interesting paradox about Mavis, is because I don't think you typically think of the gorgeous bitchy prom queen as also being literate or having that kind of career, but I think it's something that you could see, and I thought that's another facet that I can give her. It was very important to me that she be a young adult writer, because for me, I had often pondered why I was so obsessed with writing about teenagers. I had written Juno and then I wrote Jennifer's Body, and I thought, you know, it wasn't like I set out to write about kids and yet I'm doing it, and is it because I'm just a stunted adolescent woman-child? I don't know. And I immediately went to this negative, self-flagellating place, and then I thought, all right, this could inspire a character. Like, a woman who has pretty much all my worst qualities and becomes completely obsessed with reliving the past.

Movies.com: I don't usually watch trailers, and I try to go in blind to movies, so I was so struck by the tone and how grim the movie is. Was that a conscious effort to go against the tone of Juno or even Jennifer's Body?

Cody: It was absolutely a conscious effort, and I would deny that to some people and have [laughs], but to you, I will tell the truth. But yes, I was very conscious going in, as I began writing Young Adult, particularly, even in the first, I think, five to ten minutes of the movie, there's no dialogue whatsoever, and that was important to me because I felt like I had been pigeonholed as someone who just writes dialogue or someone who's overly clever or referential or obnoxious.

I've just been criticized for my writing more than any other screenwriter in the history of film, going back to when sound was invented. [laughs] So I just felt like, all right, people think that I'm a one-trick pony? By gum, I have two tricks! That's it, though. [laughs]

[Originally], I wanted to make Young Adult a full-on drama, and I did not succeed at that. The longer I worked at it, the funnier it became, and I went, you know what, it's just gonna be another dramedy.

Movies.com: It was funny, but I always laugh at things that make me uncomfortable.

Cody:  It's hard to watch at times, though, I know that.

Movies.com: How do you sit down and write another script, having gone through the stress and the excitement of being pushed towards an Oscar but also what you discussed before, the blowback.

Cody: It was something Jason [Reitman] experienced, as well. When something like that happens, when you experience a backlash or have that kind of reaction to your work, or worse, to your self, which is especially painful, you have two choices. You can sit and ruminate and obsess over it and go absolutely insane, or you can pour yourself into work, which is what I did.

I've worked nonstop since that whole ludicrous 2008 press blitz. And Young Adult came out of that, and a lot of episodes of Tara came out of that, and another script came out of that that I'm hoping to direct in a couple months. I just told myself, I can obsess or I can work, so I picked work.

Charlize Theron in Young Adult (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)Movies.com: The thing with Mavis that I could relate to is the imposter syndrome. Maybe it's just women, maybe not, maybe just a lot of creative people…

Cody: Oh, I have it! I got diagnosed with it by my therapist!

Movies.com: Where you're seeing this but I was curled up in a ball a week ago because of work or something.

Cody: I think women in particular -- and, in fact, I'm acting as if this is my original thought, it's on the Internet that women in particular are more susceptible to imposter syndrome, and for some reason, it's very rare in men. Women who experience any degree of success tend to often believe deep down inside that they've fooled everyone and that they don't actually have any talent or skill. And I feel like that every day of my life, but like I said, obsess or keep working.

Movies.com: The script you mentioned, is this Lamb of God?

Cody: Yes.

Movies.com: I'm really interested in -- the tone of Lamb of God, because it's about a girl who becomes a stripper --

Cody: No! Somebody wrote that?

Movies.com: I thought she has a religious crisis --

Cody: She's a very religious young woman from a super-conservative background, but she does not become a stripper at all.

Movies.com: Okay, maybe I misread that. I thought she has a crisis of faith and runs off to Vegas --

Cody: She runs off to Vegas, but her idea of sin is far tamer than stripping. This is a girl who was not allowed to wear shorts. And she's also a burn victim, so that wouldn't really work out for it. [laughs]

Movies.com: My bad.

Cody: No, I just hope that isn't out there, that that's what it's about… No, it's just about a young woman who's questioning her faith after she's gone through something incredibly traumatic, and in what better place to question your faith than explore the secular world in Las Vegas? That's where she goes. And it is, man, it is a weird little story, again, but I think it's very touching and uplifting in a way that Young Adult is not. [laughs] God willing that this movie gets made, I hope people leave and they feel good about themselves. A movie about religion is a tough sell, and a movie about an injured young woman is a tough sell, and I'm just excited about it.

Movies.com: I really liked Patton Oswalt's character, like when he tosses off a comment like, "You know, it takes me twice as long to do something as an able-bodied person!" Are you concerned about being called out on stuff like that?

Cody: You know, I use to really fixate on this stuff, and I've learned that you absolutely cannot create anything without offending somebody. Like ever since everyone on Jezebel discovered the term "privilege" in a textbook, suddenly anybody who's not like a destitute amputee isn't allowed to write a book because they're privileged. And it's like, look, ladies, you're privileged, too. I'm just saying, I give up. I've stopped caring. It's like, I'm gonna piss somebody off at some point. I always do. I just have to think about the majority.

Movies.com: I really enjoy your Twitter and the Red Band Trailers. You've kind of pulled away a little bit. Is that because of work, or because there's so much BS and criticism online?

Cody: There's that, [but it's also] like Tina Fey has said she's not on Twitter because it would be kind of a busman's holiday. She's like, I have to come up with clever things to say all day for my job, why would I be doing it for free on Twitter? But like, there's that, and some people use it incredibly well, like Patton [Oswalt], for instance. His feed is amazing. In my case, I just find [that] there are so many people on Twitter now that it's overwhelming, and plus, it's Twitter…

I have to say, there was a time in my life where it felt radical and cool to be expressing myself on the Internet and to be blogging every day, because there weren't that many people doing it. Now it's just like a part of everyone's life; every single person, I think, is using some type of social media. And I'd like to point out that at the time that I was doing it, when I started doing it in 2000, people thought it was really weird. Like, why would you put that out there? And now all these people have a status update out there every day. So it doesn't feel as exciting to me anymore. It feels kind of like a chore. I might pounce back on there once we really have to start promoting this guy in earnest, because I want people to see the movie so badly.

Movies.com: And we want more dog pictures.

Cody: Well, now I have to.

Young Adult opens in limited release December 9th and goes nationwide on December 16th.

Categories: Features, Interviews
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