Young Adult: Interview with Oscar-Winner Diablo Cody
The team behind “Juno”–Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and two-time Oscar-nominated director Jason Reitman, has made another strking serio comedy, “Young Adult.”
Charlize Theorn (Oscar winner for “Monster” in 2003) plays Mavis Gary, a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart. When returning home proves more difficult than she thought, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate who hasn’t quite gotten over high school, either.
Other cast members include Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, Mavis’ high school classmate, Patrick Wilson, as Buddy Slade, Mavis’ high school sweetheart, Elizabeth Reaser, as Beth Slade, Buddy’s wife. Jill Eikenberry rounds out the cast as Hedda Gary, Mavis’ mother.
The story of “Young Adult” both literally and fictitiously begins in Minneapolis, MN. Screenwriter Diablo Cody lived there for several years and the city has become something of a muse for her.
Inspired by Minneapolis
“For some reason every time I go back to Minneapolis I find myself really inspired and I find myself with this germ of a new idea,” she says. This one began with ‘an amazing news story’ about a woman who had gone after her high school sweetheart years later and as she explains, “I thought to myself, that’s pretty rich. What if there was this woman, this character who is kind of emotionally immature and the happiest she’s ever been in her life was high school? What if she’s still kind of stunted and thinks that the only way she can reclaim that happiness is to literally go back and find the man who made her happy then? Then I just started writing.”
Cody created Mavis from the inside out, starting with her emotional core, in a free-verse sort of approach, rather than a structured screenplay.
“I didn’t sit down with a fully fleshed story in my mind. I had the idea of somebody who is emotionally stunted and maybe peaked in high school and wonders now in her 30s how she can recreate those circumstances and be the queen bee again. Mavis was a character who sort of revealed herself to me and became more and more complicated as a person. I started to write more real scenes for her and finally the whole story came together,” Cody says.
Producer Mason Novick, a close friend of Cody, having discovered her as a blogger and worked with her ever since her first movie “Juno,” says: “I think this is a very personal script for Diablo. I think she feels characters like Mavis are underrepresented in mainstream media. Mavis is a woman who maybe doesn’t have the best plan, but it’s fun to watch her carry it out anyway.” Novick says. He adds that the movie was so unique and riveting that he was compelled to help get it made.
“When you read something that makes you say, ‘Wow, this is great! This is moving and I get these characters and their story,’ it is such a joy. It is material that has to be handled very specifically, because there are huge peaks and valleys. You go from serious to shocking to comedy to tragedy on this journey with these characters. This is a special movie,” says Novick.
Novick then brought the script to ‘Juno’ producers Russell Smith, Lianne Halfon and John Malkovich, who collectively form the production company Mr. Mudd. The team agreed that the script for ‘Young Adult’ was one of the best scripts they’d read in recent years.
Original Central Character
“Mavis is such an unbelievable central character,” Smith says. “A character you just find yourself laughing at and then sort of open-mouthed, like, ‘uh-oh, what’s going to happen?’ And that’s always a great way to start.” “Mavis doesn’t respond in the way you wish anybody would necessarily respond in her situation but it’s so completely well-observed that it seems utterly real and what we were blown away by is that the character is so specific and so unpredictable, very much in the way that ‘Juno’ was,” Halfon adds.
Halfon and Smith set out to assemble a singular artistic team, one that would completely understand and honor the very idiosyncratic voice of Cody’s “Young Adult.”
“Sort of like ‘Juno,’ this script was unusual. The beautiful mean girl, that’s not a big surprise in Hollywood in movies. But it’s usually the sweetheart who is in some fight with a mean girl and the mean girl is not usually the protagonist.” says Halfon.
Nathan Kahane and his team at Mandate Pictures were the subsequent “Juno” alumni to join “Young Adult.” “We jumped at the opportunity because we had such a good time on ‘Juno’ together,” explains Kahane. “We felt that it was Diablo’s most mature work and yet in the overall macro of the business, distribution was running away from challenging material and this was obviously challenging material. We had a lead character who was the type of woman that historically we don’t want to see which made it both scary and fun,” says Kahane.
The group unanimously agreed that two-time Best Director Academy Award® nominee Jason Reitman was the only filmmaker to helm “Young Adult.”
“I had always hoped in my heart of hearts that I would get to work with Jason Reitman again. I would do every project with Jason if I could because it’s so rare as a writer that you meet somebody who is that connected to you in terms of what you want to convey, the stories you want to tell, understanding the character on the page. We have a very magical, creative relationship. Whenever I write anything, I send it to Jason because I want to know what he thinks,” Cody says. “We recognized that Jason understood the cadence of Diablo’s writing better than anybody,” recounts Smith.
Cody sent a draft to Reitman who gave her some notes. She continued to refine the script and got the feeling that he liked it. “I was nine months pregnant and Jason called me and said, ‘I want to direct this movie. I’m going to put off this other project I’m working on to direct ‘Young Adult’ in a couple months.’ So it immediately went from a project in development to oh my God, it’s happening in eight weeks. That was amazing,” Cody recalls.
Reitman says that he loves Cody’s distinctive take on stories and characters and the unconventional, bold “Young Adult” was particularly appealing.
“I wanted to make ‘Young Adult’ for many reasons but mostly because I love Diablo’s voice. She is really a courageous writer and I thought the third act of ‘Young Adult’ was so brave. The movie was funny and tricky and I get excited about trying to tell tricky stories, with main characters who have dark agendas. Diablo is great at creating characters who have mixed intentions and yet she never judges them and I try to do the same as a director. I knew I wanted to direct it,” Reitman says.
Among other things, Cody’s script and particularly the potentially odious but very entertaining Mavis Gary appealed to Reitman.
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