Diablo Cody, “Young Adult,” and Pushing the Envelope—Sans Sex

Isn’t sex supposed to be fun?

Diablo Cody (who was born with the middle-American name Brook Busey) is the Hollywood A-list—but not quite mainstream—writer who wrote the Academy-Award winning original screenplay for the 2007 film, Juno, about a teenage girl’s unplanned pregnancy.  If there was one thing that puzzled me about Cody and that film, it’s the complete lack of ardor in Juno’s sex scene, performed by Ellen Page with Michael Cera.  Don’t teens like getting it on?

What makes this so puzzling (or perhaps not) is Cody’s background as a sex worker, which she described with candor in her first book: Candy Girl.  Does something in Cody’s upbringing cause her to believe in the American creed that kids can’t have sex?  That she is seemingly down on teen sex is driven home by Juno’s instantly becoming pregnant upon being sexually active, as though there mustbe a penalty for this transgression.  If a smart girl like Juno used contraception—no plot.

This aversion to sex is so surprising because Cody seems intent on stepping outside usual cinematic and social boundaries in so many other areas.  Along with Juno, Cody is best known for her Showtime seriesUnited States of Tara, about a mother with a mental condition called dissociative identity disorder, which looks like what used to be called multiple personality disorder.  Cody obviously enjoys exploring the parts of America that don’t fit into cookie-cutter Betty Crocker recipes.

Truth be told, there’s no ardent sex in Cody’s latest film, Young Adult, starring the achingly beautiful Charlize Theron, directed by Jason Reitman.  Theron’s character has sex—in fact, she is completely casual in deploying her body as a weapon to try to regain her former boyfriend, now married.  But Theron never seems to enjoy sex either.  It is just one more way in which she uses people as instruments to further her goals—not a fun activity in itself.

The Theron character—despite being beautiful and reasonably successful at her schlock writing career—doesn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.  For those of you following alcoholism in film, Theron’s depression is depicted as the root cause of her addiction.  (This is yet another cinematic failure to pick up the alcoholism-as-a-disease-state-independent-from-the-rest-of-life theory.  Why can’t filmmakers get that alcoholism is a disease, instead of portraying it as a life issue?)

Much ensues during Theron’s return to her small town to try to recapture a forlorn, delusional shadow of her imagined former happiness.  Her character never really gets back into the spirit of her own family, or the local values—and ennui—that she left behind when she evacuated for the big city (Minneapolis) and an earlier, now defunct marriage.  She doesn’t actually want that old life.  And her disdain for those who live it—including her would-be lover—is evident in every frame of the film.

This arrogance does not make her an appealing character, although her indifference to others and their concerns can be bitingly funny.  Why, she doesn’t even really care for her closest companion—her small poodle, whom she lives with in a motel room and abandons at every opportunity.  But Theron does learn through the course of the film exactly who she is, and is not, and what she wants.  Leaving town un-hungover, she has gained a clear vision of what she needs from life.

Theron develops this self-awareness without really becoming a nicer person—despite having sex with a disabled man and pouring his sister’s coffee before her own the morning after.  And this is perhaps the most radical idea you’ll see in a contemporary American film—that being nice to others and self-contentment do not necessarily go hand and hand.  The film manages to be funny in a way that isn’t the least bit uplifting. In fact, I wonder if others find it somewhat depressing, like I did. Ah, it was a darkcomedy, you say.

Wonder what Cody will come up with next?  Wonder if any of her characters will ever enjoy sex—you know, like sometimes actually occurs in life.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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