The Devil Wears Nada

“Combining collegiate potty humor with flashes of surrealistic brilliance, comedies such as Anchorman, Wedding Crashers, and Old School represent the height of the Hollywood crossover, appealing to old smart alecks, young dumb alecks, and anyone in between who appreciates gratuitous nudity and boner gags.”

That’s stripper-turned-critic-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody reviewing The 40-Year-Old Virgin in City Pages. As film editor at that publication, I gave the assignment to the then-Minneapolitan artiste during her short stint in what she has since deemed “yellow journalism.” In 2005, I thought hers was a solid take on the Judd Apatow film, not yellow in the least (and told her so). Now it looks to me like a shrewdly determined formula for the script, then recently completed, of Cody’s own major motion picture, Juno—which, like Apatow’s Knocked Up, carries an initially unwanted pregnancy to comedic term and, uh, delivers.

I’m not saying that one collegial potty mouth—Cody or Apatow—plucked dirty little secrets from the other’s bowl, or that the two consensually shared a stall en route to their word processors. I’m only gathering from the near-simultaneous appearance of these babies, Knocked Up and Juno, that there must be something in the air around a young woman’s pregnant belly these days that smells like opportunity—particularly to those like Cody, newly transplanted from Minneapolis to L.A., who are aspiring to the “height of the Hollywood crossover.”

Born Brook Busey in suburban Illinois, “Diablo Cody” has long been a gleam in the eye of this twentysomething tease. Now, finally, the character’s conception is complete. Juno, which placed second among a hundred-odd movies in competition for the Toronto Film Festival’s audience award in September (and which opens next month), isn’t just a fully formed creation, but practically the blueprint for a commercial comedy in the post-post-feminist aughts.

Well-rounded enough to reel in multiple demographics, the title character is a sassy adolescent from suburban Minnesota (the movie was shot near Vancouver, alas) who digs Suspiria and the Stooges (raw power, grrrl), discovers she has a bun in the oven (that geeky track star was too sweet to resist!), and calls Women Now for abortion info (choice!). But by the time she meets the hopeful adoptive yuppies from St. Cloud, a.k.a. “East Jesus Nowhere,” young Juno has agreed “this is one doodle that can’t be undid.” (Bring the whole family!)

When Cody appeared onstage after a jam-packed Juno screening in Toronto, she was clothed—in a tight Superman tee, Jeff Spicoli kicks, and a red thrift-store skirt short enough to flaunt the tattoo on her impressively chunky thigh. (The critic is allowed to review the stripper’s body of work, right?) With star Ellen Page (Hard Candy) and director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) standing alongside, the first-time screenwriter informed the crowd that the movie isn’t autobiographical. “I’ve never been pregnant,” she confessed. Nevertheless, Cody knows a bit about giving up a baby: She did, after all, sell her first-born screenplay to Fox Searchlight, which brought Little Miss Sunshine into the world.

Like that ingratiating Oscar winner, Juno is a cute bundle sired by none other than sugar daddy Rupert Murdoch; it’s an alternative-looking movie that won’t lack for blockbuster publicity and promotion, especially in awards season. I mention this not to dis Cody’s punk offspring for its privileged surrogate parentage (who wouldn’t sell her first script to Searchlight?), but to suggest that Juno, as corporate “indie” fare, thoroughly fulfills its critic-author’s crossover ideal. The first hour’s broad vulgarity (boner gag: “All I see are pork swords!”) is strategically placed to make the second half’s ultrasound conservatism a tad easier for “young dumb alecks” to stomach. And in the end, this old-fashioned women’s picture isn’t entirely unrecognizable as the work of a man whose dad made Meatballs—even though director Jason Reitman (son of Ivan) took patronizing pains in Toronto to credit Cody and Page as “two very special, very talented, beautiful women who have changed my life.” (Reitman also felt compelled to commend his spouse for delivering their baby in between his two other productions.)

Then there’s stridently contradictory Cody: “the naked Margaret Mead,” as she fancied herself on David Letterman’s set last year, who bared her bod in the Skyway Lounge on a lark (en route to cashing Penguin’s check for Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper). A true Cody completist would’ve studied her work on the pole to determine whether and how this social satirist puts her money where her mouth is (or is that the other way around?). Still, as crossovers go, one needn’t have caught Cody’s dildo shows at SexWorld to know that, this li’l devil of a Catholic girl—now shaking her thing for Mr. Steven Spielberg—is in a class by herself.

Pages: 1 2