|What the F*ck is She Saying? A Look at the Dialogue in Diablo Cody's Latest Screenplay|
With the success of Juno, Diablo Cody stands ready to be named the Next Big Thing in screenwriting and the voice of the younger generation. Given the best picture nomination and $100-million-plus gross her freshman effort has garnered, her ascent seems inevitable.
Cody's new script Jennifer's Body may change all that.
I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down to read her latest screenplay, a horror thriller that explores the themes of love, BFFs (that’s best friends forever, for the non-Facebook crowd), and demonic possession.
Other CC2K writers will offer their opinions on Cody's latest work, so instead of treading on what I’m sure they’ll analyze so well, I'd like to simply offer my own slack-jawed survey of the over-written, embarrassingly hip and just plain god-awful dialogue in her new script, which can be separated into various categories of bungling. I'll guide you through them one by one.
Bungle #1: The Slanguage
Maybe I'm just getting old, maybe I need to get out of the Midwest, but does the younger generation really speak with the voice Cody gives it? Am I really supposed to buy that a bunch of teens up in Bumblefuck, Minnesota, talk the way Cody’s characters talk? For example:
Chip – So I don’t think Shia Le-Whatzizname has been cast in this movie, but after seeing him play the bumbling Sam Witwicky in Transformers, I think he'd be a great fit for the character Chip in Jennifer's Body, though I wouldn't envy him having to deliver Cody's exasperatingly faux-urban slang, which comes off more like "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" than 8 Mile:
“Those jeans are hella low.”
Analysis: “Hella”? We’re still saying “hella”?
Analysis: “Holla”? We’re still saying “holla”?
Analysis: “Word”? We’re still saying “word”?
“Do you see anyone rollin’ on dubs around here?”
Analysis: “Rollin’”? We’re still–just kidding! I’m actually kind of touched that Cody used the word “rollin’.” It reminds me of the halcyon days of 2000.
“That’ll look dope.”
Analysis: I've got nothing.
Jennifer – Yes, she will be played by Megan Fox, and I can actually see her in this role. I don’t know if she can pull it off, but I can see her in it. In tight jeans. And a midriffy top.
Ahem. Anyway, Fox is playing the title character – the hot chick all the guys want to bang – and while Cody's dialogue is a little less ridiculous, it's still littered with groaners and head-scratchers like:
“Never Trevor. I’m hot like magma.”
Analysis: Magma is hot, ergo, “I’m hot like magma.” Such whimsy!
“You’re totally jello! You’re lime green jello and you can’t even admit it.”
Analysis: OK, in the context of the scene, “jello” means jealous, so I guess “lime-greem jello” is referring to the expression “green with envy.” Or maybe this character is invoking the green-eyed monster of jealousy from Othello? In any event, this kind of hybridized dialogue bugs me, where less-educated characters make highbrow references.
“You seem like you might be pluggin’.”
“Slow down tardy slip. You sound like a sped.”
Analysis: I have no idea what the fuck this means.
“You said to leave. So I’m outtie-5000.”
Analysis: This one flummoxed me at first, but this is one of those expressions that only works when you say it out loud. “Outtie-5000” sounds a lot like “Audi-5000,” and a trip to the Urban Dictionary confirmed that the old Audi-5000 was known for lurching acceleration, which is why this became a hipster expression for “leaving.”
Fuck. I am getting old.
Bungle #2 – The Stereotypes
In No Country for Old Men, while Anton Chigurh was cutting a bloody swath through rural Texas, the Coen Brothers populated their gothic modern western with a host of authentic, colorful faces.
By contrast, the characters in Jennifer’s Body are about as colorful and varied as an eight-count box of crayons, which is surprising, given the far stronger characterizations seen in Juno. Unfortunately, the characters in Cody’s new script rarely rise above stereotypes.
Adults in rural America – Evidently, they’re all caricatures of redneck hicks. Here’s one example of a mother talking about how she’ll protect her daughter,
“I’m a hard-assed, Ford-tough mama bear. It’s like, don’t y’all touch my daughter. I’ll piss on you like Calvin.”
What a treat! A reference to the catchy truck slogan, and a reference to stickers that grace the rear windows of a lot of those trucks like white trash badges of honor. And let me remind you this is supposed to take place in Minnesota, not Arkansas. On a related note, I've always been bewildered by the popularity of those Calvin stickers, seeing as how tens of thousands of rednecks are promoting a cerebral comic strip that's essentially godless, irreverent and progressive.
And then there’s this choice bit, words of a father of a murdered teen crying out in grief and rage,
“I’ll get him myself! I will! You hear me, you bastard? I’ll cut off your nutsack and nail it to my door! Like one of those lion doorknockers rich folks got! That’ll be your balls!”
Say it again: “Like one of those lion doorknockers rich folks got! That’ll be your balls!” That’s an actual line, folks. Let’s hope it doesn’t make the shooting script. Along with half of the other lines.
Manicurists – According to Diablo Cody, they’re all Chinese. ‘Nuff said.
Goths – Are they more than a group of people sharing a desire to minimize their risk of skin cancer and a penchant for black clothing? I don’t know (but I did some research), and even though Diablo Cody claims to know them, it’s more likely she knows only what everyone thinks they know.
Bungle #3 – The Pop-Culture References
In case you weren’t aware, there is a lot of advertising present in movies. It’s called product placement, and it appears in such films as Casino Royale (only Sony Ericsson cell phones for 007) and Transformers (you think it was a coincidence all the Autobots found General Motors products to emulate?). Some directors abhor this practice so much they take steps to avoid it. Quentin Tarantino has characters in his movies smoke Red Apple cigarettes, a fictional brand he created to avoid endorsing actual brands.
I mention this because Diablo Cody includes a similar practice in this script, something I’d like to call pop-culture placement. This is the introduction of references to current pop-culture in order to sound hip and relevant, as opposed to sell things. Astute readers may ask how I’m any different from Cody since I’ve name-checked various movies and Facebook in this piece. The differences are:
1. This is a snarky essay, not a script for a major motion picture.
2. I’m using these as aids to help get my point across, whereas Cody’s 22 references (I counted) throughout this script serve no other purpose than pop-culture placement, and the funniest thing is some of these aren’t even that good. Let’s look at some of the more atrocious examples:
Websites – One character name-drops MySpace to explain how she found out about an up-and-coming band (that’s the only form of promotion left these days), several “agents of Satan with awesome haircuts” found the proper protocol for a virgin sacrifice on Google (it really does have everything), and another character researches demonic possession not at the library, but on Wikipedia (an open-access encyclopedia can’t be wrong, can it?). And then there’s this:
“Move-on dot org! It’s over. Life’s too short to mope over some white-trash pig roast.” (OK, that actually wasn't too bad.)
Movies – Apparently there’s no better way to establish a character’s geek cred than by giving them a pet ferret named “Greedo” (if you don’t get the reference, you’re not a geek; if you do, you should be mildly insulted). If you want to point out how cool it is that you can heal almost instantaneously, be lazy and reference the X-Men, rather than the more accurate Wolverine, or Claire from Heroes. If you want to insult a girl for being too innocent and wholesome, call her “Lizzie Mcguire,” because no in your target audience has heard of Hannah Montana.
Celebrities – Evidently Maroon 5 is the pinnacle to which all struggling bands should aspire to. If you’re “kind of the shit” then you can expect to get more letters than Dr. Phil, Zac Effron and Santa Claus combined. Oh, and if you’re going to reference a “huge star” you can’t go wrong with Chad Michael Murray because, like, everyone knows him (this joke will make sense in a moment).
Bungle #4 – Her Trouble with Similes
All right, kids! Today’s grammar lesson is on similes. What is a simile? Hint: Look at the picture to the right. Here is a proper use of the word like in the context of a simile: he ran like the wind.
And here’s another simile, this one from Cody, and surprise! It's actually pretty good:
“We’re like E.T. and Elliot.”
What’s so good about this? Well, if you’ve seen E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (and who hasn’t?) you know that Elliot (the boy who finds the alien) and E.T. (the alien) develop a kind of psychic connection, and that is precisely what Cody is trying to convey, that two friends are so close they’re practically psychic, but using the simile sounds much more interesting, doesn’t it?
At the same time, though, there exists a more effective line that Cody could have written to describe the psychic connection between these two characters. Pop-culture references, if employed, should complement a script – not be its load-bearing member.
On the other hand, Cody also feels the need to write the following:
“She’s catatonic. She’s just staring out the front window like a zombie mannequin robot statue.”
What’s wrong here? First of all, she’s got four different things she’s comparing simultaneously to the woman staring out the window to describe her state, which she’s just told us is catatonic, so it kind of defeats the purpose of a simile. Furthermore, let’s look at those four different things:
The word "like" – So now that you know the correct ways to use the word like, let’s talk about the wrong ways to use it. Or better yet, allow me to illustrate, courtesy of Diablo Cody:
“I can see, like, your womb.”
“Anyway, this singer guy is like 22…”
“I think you forgot, like, two buttons.”
“…when you get to the next stop you’ll have to do like, a crappy acoustic set!”
“This isn’t just, like, some crazy dream…”
Had enough? There are six additional instances where Cody uses like in this way throughout the script (yes, I counted). I realize this is intended to be about and for teenagers, so it may be realistic dialogue, but it’s like, so annoying. No wait, it’s not. Her bad grammar isn’t like annoying, it is annoying.
Finally, I’d like to close with a list:
Things I learned from Diablo Cody:
"Starman" by David Bowie is an essential part of a virgin sacrifice to Satan.
“Sandbox love never dies.”
Guys, “vagina” is too clinical, instead use cute words like “lady garden,” “kiki” or “donut” to describe that most intimate part of the female anatomy.
“Rap guys wear pink.”
If a demonically possessed girl is eating your boyfriend alive, an appropriate response is “Holy Crap!”
It’s okay to pray to a saint for “the power to crush a bitch.”
“Confessions are for pussies.”
“Homosexual” is too politically correct, instead use more trendy terms such as “lesbigay,” “faygos,” and “lezzies” when referring to our neighbors in the gay and lesbian community.
“I got the monopoly on pain!”
Ladies, if you’re trying to seduce a man, there’s nothing quite as romantic as hearing you say, “You give me such a wettie.”
A bowie knife is a “hot murder weapon.”
PMS isn’t real; it was “invented by the boy-run media to make girls seem crazy.”
To refer to fellow citizens of the Christian conservative bent, say “fundie bible-bangers”. Bet you can’t say it five times fast.
Watching Aquamarine is worse than getting murdered and cannibalized.
And finally: “Fried bologna is the bomb!”
Yes, yes it is.