We like to get a sense of the artists who entertain or move us. Movies are such direct emotional experiences, we feel as though we deserve a continuing relationship with the people who made them. As if they’re owned by the U.S National Park Service.
I was a little over the top when I once described Brook Busey — better known as “Juno” screenwriter Diablo Cody — as a postmodern Dorothy Parker. I was referring to her pre-Hollywood days as a blogger, when she turned that me-centric pastime into something evocative and wittily readable.
She had also just written the 2006 memoir, “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,” an account of her year spent at the pole in Minnesota. In her writing, she suggested at least some distant relative of Parker, what with her edgy bons mots, and observational wit as sharp and bracing as quinine water.
But amid that hyper awareness of pop culture, American consumerism and human nature was a hard-boiled detachment I couldn’t parse. I enjoyed her oh-snap! ability to document her own suffering with ironic humor, but I missed a sense of the real her.
What — or who — was behind the drollery? I remained curious. I’d been that way since reading “Candy.” One thing striking about the memoir wasn’t that she stripped for a year but that she did it as a sort of Raskolnikov lark. It seemed so casual, bloodless. Nothing empowering about it.
No, of course it wasn’t as amoral as the ex-student in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” who cold-bloodedly hatches a plan to commit murder, but there was that same sense of abstract undertaking.
In a lunchtime interview in Washington, she was great fun to talk to. She plays very well in that kind of conversational sandbox. But she also seemed brittle and private. As if she was not quite sure what any of this — any of this — was about. But she was determined to ride this sucker all the way to wherever it went. It was her right as the true life version of the semi-fictional characters she had pretended to be, in her blogs.
Or something. Who really knew? You get an hour with her at lunch and you’re Dr. Insight?
Whoever she really was, Cody had written a whipsmart little romantic comedy. Not much more needs to be said about the success of “Juno.” A clever movie about love, plain and simple. About sweet, awkward love. And even through the language was artful and stylized, comicbook style, the characters were suffused with humanity. Clearly, so was whoever wrote that.
It’s hard to tell who wrote “Jennifer’s Body,” Cody’s sophomore movie. “Juno” was delightful for the way it mixed wit into the cocktail of romance. But “Jennifer’s Body” seems to have lost the recipe.
One part “Heathers” and one part “Carrie,” it’s about the revenge of a superficial high school temptress (Megan Fox) after a rock band abducts her and tries to sacrifice her to Satan. (Oh, who hasn’t had that happen?) After she emerges, bloodied and catatonic, she becomes — basically — the shark from “Jaws.” Any male unfortunate enough to hit on her, does not leave the encounter smiling.
A beautiful woman who belches black bile, frankly, is a great premise. It’s witty and startling, the first priorities of any good horror. But the part where Cody takes the genre and makes it acquiesce to her whipsmartitude, well, it’s only there in fits and starts.
Instead, the movie feels dashed off. Although it’s well aware of the horror form, although it cannily sets up a beautiful woman as the ugly, heartless marauder, the questions begin.
Is Cody twitting the genre or being contemptuous towards it? Did she work hard on this one, or crank it out because Hollywood needed More Diablo Content Now? Is Jennifer supposed to be the karmic consequence of our objectification of female beauty? Was the movie cleverly quoting or semiconsciously borrowing elements of “Heathers,” “Carrie,” “Ghost World” and “The Exorcist”? Who knows?
Those fun Codyisms come up every so often, but they don’t land as well this time. When one character urges a friend to “Move on, dot org,” for instance, it’s amusing but something doesn’t sit right. It feels too precious by half.
A little too … Diablo Cody?
Whoever she may be. I’ll never know, of course. But I am convinced that the version of Diablo Cody that wrote “Juno” will be writing again. Real soon.