Posts Tagged ‘diablo cody’

A word of warning : if you’re not into over-analysis of Diablo Cody’s screenplays, then proceed no further. It’s just something we Minneapolis movie geeks do.

Okay, still here? Then let’s begin —

I’d been avoiding seeing Young Adult (as has, apparently, the rest of the world, given its dismal box-office performance) simply because I was so sure I’d hate it. Juno was offensive on every level, with its inherent message that teen pregnancy is a situation that can be overcome if you’re just hip enough (it’s also worth noting that right-wing commentators of the Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter variety praised it for being a “pro-life” film, and they were right), and Jennifer’s Body was unmitigated and thoroughly confused garbage from start to finish (that also continued the trend of Cody’s work promoting conservative social “values” by taking the tried-and-true (and inherently anti-sex and anti-women, not that we don’t usually love it around here in spite of ourselves) “slasher” formula of having the slutty girls get killed early while saving the prudish virgin to be the “final girl” who ultimately defeats the killer and upping it to the next level by having the sexually promiscuous title character get fucking possessed by the devil during intercourse and having the chaste “final girl” save the whole world from no less than Lucifer himself/herself), so what possible hope could there be for a flick that reunited Ms. Cody with Juno director Jason Reitman (who again in this case seems to be earning his reputation as a “hot” cinematic helmsman more for his ability to coax some admittedly very nice performances out of his cast rather than due to anything he might bring to the table stylistically speaking) to tell the story of a younger-end-of-middle-aged, semi-successful, teen-romance-series fiction writer (Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary character, the titular “young adult” in question) who goes back to her po-dunk hometown of Mercury, Minnesota (there’s no such place, just in case you were wondering) after her divorce in order to (she hopes) rekindle things with her old high school flame (Patrick Wilson), who’s now happily married and celebrating the birth of his first child? Ultimately, though, my curiosity got the better of me, and (of course) I ended up seeing it at a bargain matinee. I’m predictable like that.

Anyway, since I brought up right-wing social mores in Cody’s work (albeit in parenthesis, which I seem to be doing quite a lot today — including right now), let’s just acknowledge the white elephant in the living room and admit that this unfortunate trend continues in Young Adult, since the movie states in no uncertain terms that the lives of middle-aged, single, childless women are inherently empty and miserable (Mavis even has the nerve to be career-focused, as well, even if her book series is nearing cancellation). But in this case I’m giving Cody something of a pass because it’s blatantly obvious that these “character quirks” in Mavis are being employed not in order to advance any particular sociopolitical agenda (even though they do just that), but rather as some sort of defense mechanism/safety barrier/whatever so that audiences won’t draw too many parallels between the title character and the screenwriter herself, given that our gal Diablo has recently married and had a baby.

Apart from those superficial (of a sort, at any rate) differences, though, the fact is that Mavis is obviously a stand-in for Cody, and this results in Young Adult‘s greatest near-triumphs and, ultimately, its downfall. You see, it’s no secret that our intrepid “young adult” fiction writer is unhappy with her life and finds the “promised land” of big-city living in Minneapolis to be a lot less than it’s cracked up to be (substitute screenwriting for teen fiction and Hollywood for Minneapolis and you’ve got pure autobiography here — do I even need to point this out? Didn’t think so) and thinks that returning to her roots will somehow provide the answer to the gaping hole of emptiness that her life has become. When she gets there, though, she ends up discovering that where she came from is no great shakes, either, and that the only way forward in life is to — well, move forward, because the past just ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Sounds like a surprisingly mature outlook from somebody whose previous work was always more than a little bit too cool for school, doesn’t it? Throw in some terrific performances from Patton Oswalt as the picked-on-in-high-school kid who never left town and forms a friendship with Mavis due to their mutual loneliness and love of booze, Patrick Wilson as the sympathetic former-flame-and-new-dad who can’t quite hide the fact that he ultimately feels sorry for his old girlfriend, and Collette Wolfe as the small-town-girl-with-a-small-town-mind-but-still-dreams-kinda-big-anyway sister of Oswalt’s Matt Freehauf character, and you would seem to have the makings of a pretty decent little flick with a huge helping of good, old-fashioned existential doubt at its core. The French would be proud.

Things really hit a solid and truthful note when Mavis, realizing the folly of her quest to get back with her old beau, turns up at Matt’s house and the two share a love scene that leaves them both tremendously vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. It’s understated, yet louder than bombs (as The Smiths might say), and a couple of the best minutes of screen time in any movie in recent years. If the whole thing had ended there, or with Mavis silently driving off in the morning, I’d be praising Young Adult to high heaven.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Instead, what we get is a hateful harangue against her hometown and the people in it delivered by Matt’s sister the next morning, where she insists that Mavis is still way cooler than anyone back here in Mercury and that everybody who lives in this one-horse shithole is fat, ugly, and deserves to die. Mavis takes it all in, quietly agrees, and then cruelly leaves the poor girl behind when she asks to come to Minneapolis with her (“You’re good here,” she states.) She drives off in her damaged car, finishes her book at a fast-food joynt, and it’s off into a future that, while admittedly uncertain, is still better than where she came from.

And that, my friends, is Cody finishing the film not on an honest, human, note of vulnerability, but with a huge middle finger to her critics. She’s honest enough to acknowledge that what she’s achieved maybe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that maybe her star has faded more than just a bit pretty quickly, but she’s still better than us, and certainly better than where she came from, and she’s still made it as far as she has and that’s a whole lot farther than anyone she grew up with.

Maybe she’s perfectly entitled to feel this bitter and resentful towards her past and the people that used to know her given some of the extremely over-the-top and unnecessarily personal attacks she’s received online and  in the print media from people who supposedly either knew her or at least (and more frequently) knew of her back in the day, but to see her come so frustratingly close to telling a really good story (the characters in this one even have their own distinct, individual personalities and don’t all speak with the same voice!) that acknowledges some of the things she’s been through and states the more-or-less universal truth that both where we’ve been and where we are have their problems, while the future remains a mystery, only to tell us that all that doubt was pointless and that at the end of the day she’s still way cooler and more successful than we’ll ever be is both insulting and a gutless cop-out.

Cody’s next project is apparently going to be her directorial debut, some story about a woman who’s raised in a religious home, loses her faith when she becomes a stripper or a hooker or something, and then finds it again through some series of trials and travails or whatever. So  apparently the promulgation of right-wing social mores under a flimsy veneer of “hipness” will continue.  To say I’m less than optimistic about how this sounds would be an understatement, and that’s a real shame because until the last few minutes of this film, I was ready to say that Diablo Cody had well and truly won me over and that I was ready to put my serious (and numerous) reservations about her work aside and just trust her to take us along with her on the ride to wherever this little journey of hers is headed. Now? Not so much.

At the end of the day, this film shows enough promise, conservative cultural subtext aside, for me to believe that Diablo Cody probably does have a really great story to tell buried inside of her somewhere. This could have been it — but her insistence on still being seen as the coolest girl in school (or in Hollywood, as the case may be) shows that this Young Adult still has a lot of growing up to do herself.

"Trash Humpers" Movie Poster

So, anyway, Haromony Korine’s back. The former enfant terrible who gave us Gummo and  Julien Donkey-Boy before alienating a lot of fans with the almost-like-a-real-movie Mister Lonely has returned to his roots, so to speak, with Trash Humpers, a shot-on-VHS-camcorder-and-blown-up-to-35mm pseudo-found-footage extravanganza that literally screams “look at me! I’ve still got it!” and, annoyingly, sort of proves he does.

Following the exploits of three elderly vagrants (actually three younger actors in disturbingly-well-realized latex masks, one of whom is the “writer”-director’s wife, Rachel Korine) around the streets of  Korine’s new adopted home of Nashville, Tennessee (gosh, he really is still hip as hell, isn’t he?), Trash Humpers contains really no linear narrative whatsoever, and is essentially comprised of a series of vignettes featuring our erstwhile trio humping piles of garbage and trash cans, as the title suggests (okay, flatly states); humping trees and fellating their branches; humping mailboxes; peeking in the windows of homes; taking shits in people’s driveways; teaching kids how to hide razor blades inside apples; taking their wheelchair through a carwash; ignoring dead corpses lying in ditches; dragging a talking doll on a rope behind a bicycle; hanging out with a series of non-actors who either are, or should be, mental patients;  setting off firecrackers; and occasionally killing somebody.

If you give a shit about who these vagrants are or why they do what they do, you’re watching the wrong movie. Korine’s point, to the extent that he even has one, is, as ever, merely to document — all interpretation is left up to the viewer.

And that element of honesty is really what keeps me from hating this pretentious twit’s guts.

The trash humpers doing what they do

I really can’t find much to disparage in the film itself aside from the fact that we’ve seen all this done before, and better, by Korine himself — Gummo kind of set his modus operandi in stone and subsequent efforts haven’t really been able to top it, but this movie is, in fact, still interesting — just a lot less groundbreaking. The shitty VHS camcorder work is certainly appropriate to the material and adds a new stylistic touch to Korine’s repertoire, but beyond that, if you’re familiar with his shtick you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting here and, to its credit, the film delivers. But I’m not sure Korine can really shock us anymore — and despite his protestations to the contrary, it’s clear that he still desperately wants to do so.

Our "protagonists"

I offer as evidence of this charge a scene wherein our three trash humpin’ heroes are visiting the house of two local eccentrics who go around wearing a sewed-together double-hat and matching backless hospital gowns. They all sit down for a pancake breakfast with dish soap in place of syrup.

Okay, fair enough. The usual Korine weirdness-for-its-own-sake thing, right? But Jesus, how they go on about it. They spend a good few minutes making damn sure us folks out there in the audience understand that they’re gonna eat dish soap. “You mean syrup? ” “No, soap!” “Here we go, eat that soap!”

Okay, we get it already. One of the things I hated most about Juno was how Diablo Cody just had to rub the supposed “coolness” of her characters in our faces — Juno doesn’t just have a hamburger phone, for example — she takes a call and lets the person on the other end know she can’t hear them so well because she’s talking on her hamburger phone ! News flash, we can already see that!

Needless to say, the same principle is in effect here, with the key difference being that Korine’s work actually is outre, instead of providing the kind of safe, sanitized version of “out-there” hipsterness that Cody’s made the bedrock of her career. If a teenager got pregnant in a Harmony Korine film — well, that did happen, in Julien Donkey-Boy. And it wasn’t played for light comedy. But geez, Harmony, all I’m saying is trust us a bit — we know this shit is weird, you don’t need to hammer us over the head with a reminder of just how weird it is while we’re watching it. Let the material speak for itself.

Would you invite them to your next family picnic? It might liven things up

The other thing that’s lessening the impact these little slices of almost-aesthetic-terrorism Korine lobs out every few years — and this is no fault of his own — is the internet. There was an air of disrespectable danger surrounding Gummo due to the fact that the pretentious legions of “officially licensed” film snobs were nearly unanimous in their denunciation of that film as being pointless and exploitative of its freak-show subjects. Now we’ve got a secondary legion of semi-officially licensed film snobs, the “superstar bloggers,” if you will,  best exemplified by the likes of the insufferable and hideously pretentious Karina Longworth, who cheerlead for Korine’s films as genuine examples of guerrilla cinema and profound works of art. Personally I liked his stuff better when the critics just hated it. It just loses some of its charm when there’s not a big scarlet letter of disapproval stamped on it by the powers that be.

A moment ago I mentioned the freak-show aspect of all this, and that’s really what makes the proceedings here tick — it’s not so much the random and thoughtlessly violent (Korine has described this movie as “almost an ode to vandalism”) actions of the trash humpers themselves that provide the interest here, but the endless succession of truly disturbed people they come into contact with. Let’s face it — after the first trash-fucking scene and first tree-fucking scene, subsequent ones are going to lose their impact, even if one of the humpers is screaming “get that trash pussy!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And after the fiftieth time one of them intones their unofficial motto of “make it, make it, don’t fake it!” or sings their unofficial theme song that goes something liek “three little devil went out for a walk,”  you want to punch their fucking lights out. After you see one of them taking a dump outside on a driveway a subsequent scene where one of them is blowing out birthday candles on a cake while sitting on the crapper with the female THer telling him “you’ll pass it” seems pretty punchless. But the menagerie of sub-marginals on display never ceases to amaze, from the wanna-be-conjoined twins doing a sock-puppet-theater rendition of the lives of Yang and Chang, the original Siamese twins, to the shirtless overweight loser who sings songs about his penis on his guitar to the sub-moronic redneck cracking racist and homophobic “jokes” that have no punchline to the obviously disturbed older dude who “exercise regimen” consists of laying on his bed and lifting his chin up for 60 seconds at a time to the transvestite poetry reciter — God help me, they all kept me glued to my seat long after the whole garbage-fucking thing had played itself out.

Will you be my friend?

I caught Trash Humpers at a midnight screening (it’s being distributed around the country in limited-release by music distro outfit Drag City after garnering something of a reputation at SXSW and other film festivals) at the Uptown Theater here in Minneapolis over the weekend, and the primary audience reaction was laughter — the scenes meant to shock and horrify, or even to just make you go “what the fuck?,” seemed to fall a bit flat — and I think that’s evidence of the fact that the main “problem,” if you will, here, is one of diminishing returns. A viewer unfamiliar with Korine’s previous work would probably find this to be the most appalling, inexplicable, atrocious, and downright indecipherable thing they’ve ever seen. But for those of us who have seen his other films, it’s all kind of been done before, and better. even the ending, with the female THer making off with a baby from someone’s house, is a watered-down version of  Julien stealing his sister’s dead baby from the hospital right after we learn that he’s the father in Julien Donkey-Boy.

Still, in terms of doing what it sets out to do, Trash Humpers comes through. Korine has said that he wanted this movie to have the feel of a video tape found in a ditch or the bottom shelf of a VHS rental shop or in an old dresser drawer or the attic of an abandoned house, and to have the viewer pop it in the VCR without knowing what to expect and get an accidental glimpse into an unfamiliar parallel reality — one that they knwo to be real, but have no experience of. On that score, it succeeds admirably. But he’s proven in the past that he’s capable of much more.

Still, in spite of the fact that this feels like a watered-down rerun of previous efforts, and the fact that this flick has become something of a cause-celebre for the self-appointed hip, there is an honesty here underneath all the “look at me, I’m still cool and transgressive!” messaging of this film. I may not care much for the aging- former- hipster-still-desperate-to-be-relevant persona of Korine himself, nor the fact that he’s treading on familiar ground and “giving the punters what they want” rather than pushing himself in new directions, but I can’t take issue with all his motivations.

Some filmmakers put out a movie to make a buck, others to make a statement. Korine doesn’t seem too terribly interested in either. In the end, Trash Humpers feels like a movie he made just because — well, he could. And while that’s probably not praiseworthy in and of itself, it’s not really deserving of criticism, either. It just — is.

Kinda like Trash Humpers itself.

Is any caption really necessary --- or even appropriate?

Is any caption really necessary --- or even appropriate?

(Editor’s Note I  didn’t feel qualified to write a review of this film myself  since I walked out at about 30 minutes in, headed up the hallway in the multiplex, and caught “Whiteout” with Kate Beckinsale instead. Since, however, we —okay, me—here at TFG tend to cover all things horror, and since any movie written by Diablo Cody isa major cultural event in and of itself—why, just ask her!—I would feel remiss in not devoting a column to this film in some way, shape, or form. Given that we’re at the one-year anniversary of Ms. Cody’s infamous internet lash-out where she, in true Hollywood fashion,  conflated all criticism of her work with criticism of herself as a human being and that her latest film landed with a distinct thud at the box office last week despite the presence of Hollywood’s “it” girl of the moment, we thought it would be a novel idea to reach out to the former Minneapolitan in the spirit of hometown camaraderie and  invite her back to the place that made her famous (meaning, of course, the Web, not Minneapolis) in order to comment on her latest film and tell us why we should ignore the rest of the filmgoing public, as well as overwhelming critical consensus, and see “Jennifer’s Body.”  To our surprise and delight Ms. Cody accepted our invitation and is here, now, to add to her list of pseudo-cutting-edge writing by providing a review of her own movie.)

Hi dudes and dudettes, jock-itchers and jock-sniffers, Fruit of the Loomers and Frederick’s of Hollywood g-stringers, Right Guarders and Always-jammers, and welcome to my homeboy-even-though-he’s-white-and-so-am-I’s little corner of the electronic soon-to-be-super-toll road. I used to be a stripper, you know, and if there’s one thing I’ll never forget about the career I used in a most novel manner, even if I do say so myself, as a springboard out of the mid-fucking-west, it’s that you always want to leave them wanting more. Tease ’em and tease ’em and tease ’em some more, that’s the motto amongst the sweat-drenched, cut-throat bitchterhood that leaves the boys  with half a hardon and a fully empty wallet. It’s a lesson, dear huddled masses, that has served me well.

Case in point : my debut feature, “Juno.” Can I admit now I played you all P.T. Barnum-style? It was so easy. Make yourself and your story the focus of the attention rather than the script itself, and you can cover any and all deficiencies. All your characters can sound the same, you can ignore every gut-crunching reality that would normally follow on from the ultra-heavy situations you’re depicting, you can fool people into thinking that kitsch equals intelligence—as long as they all know going in that you used to be a stripper—a fact I may have mentioned already—and a blogger. The critics will fawn over your hare-brained dialogue as long as it’s one-half-step more clever than anything they’re thinking—or, more accurately, as long as it proclaims itself to be one-half-step more clever than anything they’re thinking, and Hollywood, more desperate to prove its “inclusiveness” than Kanye is to prove his maturity, will throw an Oscar your way. Steve (I call him Steve beause now I’m famous, too) Spielberg will act like one of the guys at the club I had just flashed half a nipple to and throw the green stuff at you to create your own show about anything you want. And every studio in town (well, in the only town that matters, I should say) will be pounding down the door of your just-purchased home to get you to work for them and hell, when your next project comes out, you’ll even get top billing above the director and the start. Why, just take a look at the poster for my new flick, “Jennifer’s Body”—

"Jennifer's Body" movie poster

"Jennifer's Body" movie poster

Yeah, Megan Fox—who I’m now very good friends with, by the way—we might even invite her to join the Fempire—is bigger than King Kong’s schlong right now. Amanda Seyfried—who I’m not as tight with but sure will be if her career takes off—is a solid up-and-comer. And what does this poster say above their names? Hell, above the title of the movie itself?

That’s right.  And I quote—“From the Academy Award-Winning Writer of ‘Juno.'” And as I might have also mentioned before, my name might be fake, but I like it, and it’s my fake name, not yours, and it’s inscribed on the bottom of an Academy Award and yours isn’t.  Got a problem with that? Talk to the hand, baby, talk to the hand.

All of which brings me—almost—to the movie itself. See, here’s a nifty little trick I learned. Ya gotta work fast, and by that I mean faster than Oprah gloms onto the next big self-help craze before it hits. When you’re a one-trick pony as opposed to a My Little Pony, people are going to fall out of love with you really fast if they wise up to the fact that they’ve been had, Brad. You have to crank those scripts out quicker than Tony Romo switches celebrity squeezes, or else they might wise up to the fact that all you’re doing is stringing together self-aware and easily-memorable catch-phrases around the a plot thinner than Karen Carpenter before she checked the fuck out.

See what I did just there? It’s called safely shocking irreverence. Take an event long enough ago to have lost its immediate impact, bring it up in a manner that references nothing more than its prurient pop-culture quasi-value, and use it as a quick, off-the-cuff metaphor. Try it sometime, it’s pretty fun, and might even lead to a lucrative writing deal for you if you have an easily-marketable personal history to back it up. Free advice there, folks.

So anyway, fragile little impressionable audience, I got my show done pronto and got my next movie out PDQ, too (I can safely use outdated colloquialisms now in the knowledge that the very act of me saying them will be enough to convince some people, at least, that they’re cool again).  I’m literally everywhere these days. And maybe now’s the time to plan my next move.

Overexposure, they call it, and it can be the kiss of death—just ask Britney Spears. Give the girl credit, though, she lays low for a few months, and by the time she’s back on track, Jack, the public is slavering for her all over again. And if incognito is the way to be-to, then that’s what I’ll do next. Get the punters, as they say across the pond, good and hungry for their next Diablo-fix before giving it to ’em. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned since the first weekend BO results for “Jennifer’s Body” hit, it’s that you peeps out there don’t appreciate your girl enough. I’m pissing pure genius  at you, the unwashed masses, and you can’t even show and pay eight lousy bucks  for the golden  shower. Pearls before swine and all that.

Don’t you get it? There’s nothing original in “Jennifer’s Body,” but that straight-up doesn’t matter. It’s loaded with snappy dialogue that, sure, is no more realistic than you’d find in an Ed Wood script (and I throw in a buttload of product placement references cleverly disguised as quick-witted banter), but it’s self-aware of its own ludicrousness. I’m subverting what I do even as I do it through the power of the pussy! You see, this is hopelessly annoying self-conscious drivel written by a WOMAN and delivered by WOMEN. The director of this gorefest, Karyn Kusama,  is FEMALE. The principal characters are FEMALE. The fact I employ every boring-ass horror cliche isn’t indicative of laziness or lack of imagination, no sir/madam—I am LIBERATING these tired old chestnuts and SUBVERTING them by FEMINIZING them.  This isn’t a tired rehash of conventional shit, it’s a piece of TRANSGRESSIVE filmmaking. The shoe is on the other foot now, fellas, and we ladies are grinding our boot-heels down!

Sisters, this one’s for you. Not me. You. This is about the power of the collective “we” of the female gender. This, in the end, is my gift to my fellow women. And to think so few of you accepted it—but I digress, I guess, Jess.

I’ll try not to despair too much. I’m still pretty damn wonderful, even if I do say so myself. And if it all goes to pot, hey, there’s still my “Entertainment Weekly” column. How many screenwriters have a fallback option that solid? Oh yeah, not a one. It’s a pretty exclusive club consisting of me, and me, and—oh yeah—me.

Anyway, I’ve done what I can. It’s out there. I’d say this movie is absolutely right now, but I think it’s more next week, Or the week after. One half-step ahead. Yes, everybody sounds just like people from “Juno,” only stuck in a horror flick. But I know what I’m doing. Hell, one of the main chicks is named Needy! Doesn’t that prove to you that I know what I’m doing? That this is all on purpose? That I could write actual, differentiated characters if I wanted to, but that I deliberately choose not to do so? I understand what I’m doing, even if you don’t. I won’t dumb this shit down. I’m up here—I’ve thrown you a rope—climb your ass up here and meet me. Or don’t. It’s your choice. But I think I’ve earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to your blind trust in all I say and do. After all, as I may have mentioned before, I used to be a stripper, but now my fake name that I chose and I like even if you don’t is now inscribed on the bottom of an Academy Award. And yours isn’t. My boss made “E.T.” Yours made his kids oatmeal for breakfast.

And that’s a fact, homeskillet.