I’ve made no bones about the fact that I am something of a Diablo Cody fangirl. I loved Juno and Young Adult made my honorable mention list for best of this year.
But a question has been nagging at me lately: Is Diablo Cody some sort of hipster double agent? She certainly traffics in hipster-friendly environments: Her films are loaded with winking pop culture references and her heroines—who at least SEEM to be a stand-in for the screenwriter herself—are snarky and too-smart-for-their-own-good iconoclasts who wear a lot of plaid. And yet, she seems to subvert the hipster ethos at every turn.
We can start with the most obvious example of this: The fact that her eponymous heroine Juno carries her child to term. Many people have noted that abortion isn’t even a real option for Juno—certainly unexpected for such a pragmatic, unsentimental character. Not that pro-choice necessarily equals hipster, but you don’t see a lot of ironic eyewear at a so-called “Pro-Life” rally.
Sticking with that film for a sec: There’s the funny (and brilliant) bait and switch (or should I say Bateman and switch?) (sorry) on Jason Bateman’s Mark. We spend the whole movie thinking that he’s the cool guy: The cute dad with the recording studio in his basement, who wears Sonic Youth T-shirts and feels trapped by suburban conformity. But wait: He’s not the hero at all! In the end, it’s Jennifer Garner’s wannabe mother—the kind of woman who baby-talks to an unborn fetus and has spent her whole life embracing society’s preordained female roles—where the film’s true loyalties lie.
When I reviewed Juno, I also noted, with some delight, that even Juno’s needlepoint-loving stepmother was a surprise. “Oh we’ve seen this before,” I wrote. “A homey, kitschy character who will be the source of ridicule. But no, in Cody’s script, the stepmother is salty and smart, with lots of fierce love for her weird stepdaughter.”
And there’s the rub: Cody takes you just to the edge of making fun of these people and then she pulls back and reveals them to be far stronger and cooler than we thought. It’s a sleight of hand of sorts. And that’s the double agenty aspect of her work. We think we’re supposed to laugh at the needlepoint lovin’ mama or the type A would-be super mom: But the joke’s on us! They’re the secret heroes!
Now let’s look at Cody’s latest, Young Adult. Its heroine, Mavis Gary (brilliantly embodied by Charlize Theron) is a former homecoming queen/mean girl type who escaped a small town in Minnesota and moved to what the locals call “The Mini Apple” ( “nobody calls it that anymore” Mavis snorts disdainfully). She’s divorced, her series of young adult novels is about to come to an end, and she’s feeling a bit unmoored. So naturally her thoughts drift to her glory days of high school and she convinces herself that she is destined to be with her former sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson) and that she will save him from a life of suburban drudgery. The fact that he’s married with a newborn baby is only a minor deterrent.
Of course, Young Adult isn’t as sneaky as Juno in subverting our expectations. After all, Mavis is clearly a delusional hot mess. We’re not supposed to totally align ourselves with her point of view. Nonetheless, when she mocks the town for its big new franchise—a “Ken-Taco-Hut” (that is, a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC combo) or goes to a department store where they’ve never even heard of Marc Jacobs—we are supposed to sneer a little. This small town is as banal, as unhip, as blandly commercialized as any in America—and yet Cody seems to secretly love it (even as she mocks it). The film’s coolest character, by far, is Buddy’s wife (Elizabeth Sleader), who is not only a special ed teacher, but a drummer in an (admittedly horrible) grunge cover band. See? You can stay in a small town, raise a family, and still be cool. Indeed, embracing strong Middle-American family values seems to be the only path to true fulfillment in Cody’s work.
So where does this leave Cody, herself—with her tats and her piercings and her Roller-Derby-ready name? I suppose the greatest trick the conservative ever pulled was convincing the world (and possibly even herself) that she was a hipster.
Photo courtesy of wireimages.com