After Roy’s review of the Juno script and that monumental spanking we got last week on the Diablo Cody Reddit discussion, I wanted to revisit this writer to see if she’s talented. There I used the adjective “great” which people didn’t agree with.
Today’s script gives me the opportunity to see how hasty I was with that statement.
*Disclaimer* I’ve never watched Jennifer’s Body, but did know it wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed.
When I first sat down with the script, I was impressed. I was intrigued with the story, the terms used to present it, and actually flew threw the first pages thinking, “Wow. She really is a great writer. They must have really took a dump on the movie.”
I got to page 15 or so, and things started to get goofy. Dialogue was dumbed down. The intriguing description used in the first pages wasn’t there. And the plot…
It was like Ms. Cody was trying to write a horror movie in the style of a Family Guy episode or a Mel Brooks movie. Neither of which worked, especially since her teen dialogue was annoying, and the gruesome horror scenes didn’t add anything.
There’s a reason Daniel Tosh doesn’t make Jerry Seinfeld observations, and Jerry doesn’t tell Jeff Foxworthy redneck jokes.
They stick with what they’re good at. Although, as writers, we should try and branch out I think there’s some responsibility to know we’re presenting our best work.
The question this script begs is, would we take the time to make sure the story’s perfect if someone’s beating down our door offering us easy money?
Jennifer’s Body by Diablo Cody
Logline: A newly possessed cheerleader turns into a killer who specializes in offing her male classmates. Can her best friend put an end to the horror?
Away we go.
(I’ll try my best to copy and paste examples, but doing so from IMSDB.com isn’t fun.)
1.) Can we visualize the description?
As I mentioned, things started out really good. Even the intro image sets the tone that this won’t be a usual story.
ANITA “NEEDY” LESNICKI, 17, sits on her hospital bed in
pajamas. She’s a plain-faced girl with a haunted expression. As she stares out the window, she winds colored yarn around a pair of Popsicle sticks to create a “god’s eye.”
Out a single window, we see an imposing nine-foot SECURITY FENCE.
Next to Needy, we see a pile of unopened mail scattered casually on the floor. There are letters, packages, even creepy little gifts and totems sent by admiring “fans.”
Our opening image is the first impression we make with a reader, and this one comes across as unusual which captured my interest. A weird mood is set.
Needy plugs her ears as if it physically hurts her to listen to the song.
Statements like this were awesome, but unfortunately only really peppered throughout the first 15 pages, and nonexistent throughout the rest of the script.
It’s not just “she covers her ears,” it’s covering her ears in a way that applies more. This sentence is also helpful to an actor without saying, “You’re motivation is frustration.”.
Again, it would have been nice to have more, because once we get into the meat of the story, it’s just basic writing.
Jennifer does this.
Needy does that.
A shame really.
Another thing I didn’t really like was the big blocks of description. There was good mixed with bad in a lot of them, and the bad could have been easily edited out to streamline the whole thing.
6 out of 10 points.
2.) Does the author use an acceptable format?
It’s hard to tell with the way the IMSDB.com formats the script. I think some formatting may have been lost in the upload.
Therefore I’ll let the author pass on the structure part.
Some issues I did notice, and it may be a description thing, but the numerous uses of “we see….”
Personally I don’t think we, as writers, should ever use that phrase, but I’ll usually let a writer slide if it’s only used occasionally. Unfortunately in this script, it felt like it was used out of laziness, and frequently.
I didn’t care for that, especially since I’d already read what the writer was capable of.
On top of that there were a quite a number of grammar mistakes. Simple things like the wrong word, singular/plural nouns versus the proper verbs, etc. Easy things to correct.
7 out of 10 points.
3.) Is the dialogue free of exposition and rich in subtext? Does each character have a unique voice?
Again, the dialogue started off very good.
NEEDY V.O. (CONT’D)
Occasionally I get presents from
starfuckers who saw my picture in
the paper and want to marry me or
something. They think they can
take me away from all this.
NEEDY V.O. (CONT’D)
Like I’d really date some
perverted Chester with a hard-on
for jailbait. I might be insane,
but I’m not desperate.
The thing that’s cool with this sort of voiceover, is it’s almost like the description.
What Needy was saying in the beginning enhanced what I was seeing in my mind’s eye.
Her language also sets up the contrast for what she’s going to become as she makes her way through the story. Here she drops profanity like it’s nothing, where in the “beginning” of the plot she makes a conscious effort not to use dirty language.
Hey. Didn’t you used to baby-sit
me in like 1998? When my mom
worked the overnight at Hormel?
The female cop fidgets uncomfortably.
Yeah. Gracie, right? Gracie. I
really like your hair, Gracie. How
many cans of Salon Selectives did
it take to erect that monument?
Needy’s fast talking reminded me of what I liked when I watched Juno. The clever put downs and observations are well written.
NEEDY V.O. (CONT’D)
We were our yearbook pictures.
Nothing more, nothing less.
This was the last great dialogue example I was able to make note of. Again it’s description in dialogue, but you can see the way Cody wants us to view her characters.
What I didn’t like
The dialogue got cheesy from here on out.
One person said Diablo Cody studied how teenagers talk and then captured it exactly.
There’s a reason old farts like me can only take so much “teen gossip” before wanting to pull out what little hair we have left on our heads.
Did she capture the characters? Sure she did, but then she took it too far.
Jennifer and Needy were best friends who had their own brand of slang, but it wasn’t clever, it was annoying.
Chip is another problem, in that he’s set up to be the nice guy, but at random times he drops lines that seem more apt to be in the Malibu’s Most Wanted script, not this one.
Oh cheese and fries! Someone’s
here. I’m alone, Chip. I’m freaked
Where’s your mom?
Swing shift. Listen, I’ll call you
in a minute. Stay awake.
Hey Chip, Needy ain’t no holla back girl…
Then plenty of dialogue started with “Well…” C’mon, lazy when you see the writer’s talent elsewhere.
Lastly, there were several times where dialogue and description gave us a double dose of what was going on.
Needy notices AHMET FROM INDIA, a FOREIGN
EXCHANGE STUDENT, standing by himself away from the
Hey, it’s Ahmet from India. The
foreign exchange guy. He’s all by
Really, Diablo Cody?
That right there makes me wants to take off the full ten points, but as the beginning bits were alright:
3 out of 10 points.
4.) Does the writer understand the challenges and rewards posed by the medium chosen in which to tell his/her story? Shorthand version of this is: Is it a movie and not a play?
Yes it was a movie. A goofy movie, but…
10 out of 10 points.
5.) Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Are the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to continue to be original?
Diablo Cody definitely has her own unique style.
Unfortunately I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving her full credit in this section for more or less phoning it in.
We shouldn’t be taken advantage of by having the writer’s style implied from previous work.
Plus the horror plot itself was nothing new.
5 out of 10 points.
6.) Does the script have a hook?
As I mentioned, this script did an excellent job of pulling me in.
The first two pages establishing who Needy is after the whole ordeal was very well done since I willingly wanted to keep reading.
(I say “willingly wanted” as with some of the scripts we review our continued reading is out of courtesy.)
15 out of 15 points.
7.) Is that hook effective?
That unique style continues as we see the mental facility Needy is in, along with the crime she committed.
15 out of 15 points.
8.) Is there enough to maintain the hook? Reveals, conflict, etc.?
After more or less getting the conclusion and the ending so early, I think the script might have shot itself in the foot.
The plot itself was pretty predictable in that high school friends become enemies, so I’m not sure I was entirely interested in HOW we got to the end.
This is a problem.
On top of that, the plot itself seems to wander in that Jennifer’s a nice girl since she’s the popular girl who’s best friends with a nerd.
She’s slutty, but nice.
Then we find out she’s not so nice, and has treated Needy like crap all her life.
Oh, and this band that turned Jennifer into the monster she is, worships the devil, in order to become a big deal. BUT DON’T FOCUS TOO HARD ON THAT…lookit Jennifer’s boobies, she’s our main story.
It was just all over the place, and the horror plot itself wasn’t anything too new or interesting.
Jennifer became a sort of demon vampire that has to feed on human flesh to stay alive.
Nothing we haven’t seen before.
The one thing I will give Ms. Cody credit for is that she kept it moving.
3 out of 10 points.
9.) Does the story play to a target audience, and have the elements demanded by that audience?
It was supposed to be a horror comedy that never really lived up to either since it was pretty over the top. Audiences would (and did) leave disappointed.
There were also errors in the script that would annoy a reader where the characters arrive in one make of car and then leave in another make (but it’s supposed to be the same car). Or Chip says he’s going to Needy’s house at the end of the scene, but the scene after that they’re at Chip’s house with no explanation of why they changed their minds.
Stuff like that brought me out of the story and was easily fixable.
Also when this tragic fire happens in the town and a lot of people die, no one seems to treat it like a big deal. Needy at one part hears people screaming, can see the place burning, and for some reason she asks about the band’s equipment…
5 out of 10 points.
Was I hasty calling Diablo Cody a great writer? Yes, however I think the talent is definitely there.
I do wonder about this script though, as parts of it felt like an early writing sample for an author, but it also felt rushed. Perhaps, after the success of Juno, she had pressure from her agents or producers to just get them something.
It also felt like a cheat that she knew to make the first 15 pages REALLY good, while leaving the rest as is. But I don’t think anyone could have read this script beginning to end and said, “This is going to be HUGE!”
(Perhaps folks got greedy and wanted to take advantage of Juno’s success, or they just wanted something that would make ample use of Megan Fox’s cleavage.)
The potential is there though, and I fault Ms. Cody for not hailing to Roy’s favorite mantra from Charlie Kaufman, “Every word on every page should be a conscious choice.” Had she have wrote with that thought in mind, this script could have amounted to something.
Total 69 out of 100 points.
(PS – That score is in no way a joke on Ms. Cody’s being a former stripper. Although it is kinda funny how that worked out.)