C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

In writing dialogue, what sounds real?

This week, as I listened to some NPR folks talk about writing on a podcast called Culturetopia, I found myself getting agitated. They were coming down hard on Diablo Cody for her dialogue in Juno. The

Diablo Cody, writer of the film Juno

Image via Wikipedia

complaints were variations on a theme: teens don’t talk like that. They grudgingly admitted that some of the dialogue was funny, but added it was the actors’ charm that sold dialogue that wasn’t “real.” (Whatever this reality thing is…but that’s another post in which I discuss quantum physics, multiple earths and Twinkies.)

How charming do these critics imagine actors can be if they’re mute? Do they really believe the charm oozes off the screen just because actors walk onscreen? (In my experience, that only happens in porn where dialogue is tertiary. Primary? Looks. Secondary? Action (and, equally, the presence of umbrellas open indoors…but that’s my fetish.) In so-called real life and on film, actors have to speak the lines in the script (and possibly throw in some improv) to sell a performance. JK Simmons is a great actor. But if he played the dad in Juno as a mime bereft of Cody’s dialogue, I would have to kill him. (As is my mission with all mimes.) What I’m saying is, Juno as a silent movie wouldn’t work nearly so well for me.

There are so many lines from that comedy I loved:

“It’s a pilates machine.” 

“Great! What’s it make?”

And the teenage mother played by the wonderful Ellen Page tossing off the reaction of her peers to her advancing pregnancy:

“They call me the cautionary whale.”

Cody’s critics were even cheering her “failure” with her second movie, Jennifer’s Body, to teach her humility (presumably so she can write another, more banal movie that’s not so threatening to their self-image and worldview.)

There are three answers to this line of attack on Diablo Cody:

1. It was a comedy. Lighten the fuck up.

2. “Teens don’t talk that way”: Really? All teens? Everywhere? Ever? Every teen and every adult must conform to one sound, one point of view, one CLICHE?! Ellen Pages’ character was a smart, glib kid who spoke in one-liners. Sometimes I speak in one-liners and the only writer working for me is me. Maybe the critics don’t know any smart people who are funny at the same time. They need to meet more comics because that’s what some of them can sound like on and offstage. Maybe after giving up her baby to Jennifer Garner, Juno went off to work the Comedy Store. Or she took up particle physics. Funny and smart at the same time is possible, at least in the form of Juno.

3. Critics: Don’t be so damn churlish. I’m thinking of two words. The second word is “you.” The first word is not “thank.”

Filed under: publishing, Rant, Rejection, reviews, scriptwriting, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , ,

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