Friday, December 9, 2011

Scott Mendelson: MEDIOCRE INTERVIEWER! - Diablo Cody on Young Adult.

I don't do interviews, so you'll pardon the messy edges.  But I was lucky enough to attend a screening of Young Adult (review) two weeks ago where writer Diablo Cody and actor Patton Oswalt were in attendance.  Long story short, I ended up getting some phone time with Ms. Cody, in what was supposed to tie in with that rambling essay I wrote on Wednesday.  Anyway, thanks to a slightly curtailed time and my desire to talk about the movie itself, the questions below mainly deal with Young Adult.  Point being, I asked her half-a-dozen questions and got half-a-dozen worthwhile answers, all of which are paraphrased to the best of my ability unless there are actual quotes.  Just don't look for a pattern or any narrative coherence.  My fault, not hers, and if I do this again I'll be sure to get a phone recorder that actually works.  But here we go...

For what it's worth, when I inquired about the whole 'female anti-hero' thing, she basically commented that in this case it actually helped the movie.  "The part of the curmudgeon or addict is almost always played by a man.  I couldn't think of a character of that nature who was female."  Because Young Adult was is told from the point of view of a female, it has turned the film into a talking point about subjects such as this.  The female-centric point of view has allowed the film to appear provocative, and has allowed it to enter the conversation.  When I asked about any resistance from Paramount or any executives, she basically stated that "There was no resistance from Paramount, and they were super supportive".  She also reiterated a point that she has made elsewhere, in that she believes that it was director Jason Reitman's interest in the project and faith in it that allowed it to get made as it was intended.  Reitman was just as adamant about not changing the script or the nature of its lead character.  

We also discussed at (relative) length the character of Beth, played by Elisabeth Reaser (Beth is the wife of Patrick Wilson's Buddy, who is the target of Mavis's affections).  Cody confirmed that she did make a real attempt to flesh out what could have been a stock 'rival' character. "I wanted Beth to be cool and likable.  I would have been too easy for Beth to be a slumpy small-town stereotype."  I made reference to the rather copious product placement throughout the picture, and I had remarked that, while others found it distracting, I appreciated the use of real brands and real products in a manner similar to Seinfeld.  Cody confirmed that none of the companies featured were paid in any way for their appearance in the film, and we both agreed that at least a few of the products (such as Diet Coke) probably wouldn't want to pay considering how they were featured (I also spent too much time discussing our mutual amusement with the whole 'Diet Coke is for GIRLS while Coke Zero is for MEN!' meme).  "The details were in the script.  General Mills (where Buddy works) is a company that is associated with Minnesota.  It (the product references such as 'KenTacoHut' for those KFC/Pizza Hut/Taco Bell combo restaurants) left a credibility and realism to the town that I appreciated."

We discussed what might be considered spoilers regarding key moments in the second and third acts of the film (which, again, is my fault for broaching the subjects).  While praising Patrick Wilson's performance ("It's not a showy role and requires massive chops BECAUSE Buddy is such a regular guy."), she discussed at least one moment in the film where Buddy may or may not give into temptation.  "At one point I wanted to portray Buddy at his weakest. Buddy is drinking and Mavis is unbelievably pushy. We get to see Buddy let down his guard."  To the film's credit, said moment is not a major turning point in the film, and it's never really addressed.   "(Addressing it) would be ‘paint by numbers’, what people were expecting would happen."  I also inquired as to her thoughts on the trailer, which is a classic case of spoiler-by-insinuation as well as erring by containing a major third act moment in a way that hints at the film's eventual conclusion.  She took the spoilage in stride.  "Trailers these days do tend to be less ambiguous than they used to be. We just have to sell the hell out of the movie these days."  She then correctly remarked at how much the trailer left out, such as the entire character arc for Patton Oswalt's character.

Finally, Cody discussed the somewhat contradictory nature of the narrative, in that it straddles the line between creating suspense regarding whether Mavis will succeed in her mission as well as the awkward 'watching a train wreck' feeling of waiting for her seemingly inevitable failure.  "Yes, I wanted to create some drama. I did not want to present a completely hopeless mission. We’re aware early on that Buddy is not going to bite. When is Buddy going to blow her off? When are people going to confront her?"

And that's about when her baby woke up (I wasn't aware babies slept during the day... mine never did!), which cut our session a few moments short (although I ended up with more time than I was expecting).  As you can tell, this was my first real interview and I thank Ms. Cody for being the proverbial guinea pig.  Anyway, since the point on her end is promoting Young Adult, let me emphasize that it's a fantastic little movie that is among the year's best.  It opens in limited release this weekend and goes wide next weekend.

Scott Mendelson

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