Diablo Cody is an admirably unconventional person. You know who she is? She’s like that really smart, sarcastic, and incredibly funny girl you knew in high school—the one you sometimes ate lunch with in the cafeteria while she made fun of the popular kids. She was self-possessed and didn’t really care what you or anyone else thought about her, and you would have asked her to the prom but prom would have been too lame for her... only to find out later that she went to prom with some loser guy and then you thought to yourself: "She went to prom with him? Why didn’t I ask her? I’m as big of a loser as him!"
Anyway, that’s Diablo Cody. And just to be clear, Diablo Cody isn’t her given name. She was born Brook Busey, but changed it to Diablo Cody one day when she was driving through Cody, Wyoming and was listening to the Arcadia song “El Diablo.”
Want more? Cody was working at a boring job proofreading copy at a Minneapolis ad agency when she signed up for an amateur night at a strip club, had fun, and decided to become a feminist stripper. She started a blog about a secretary in Belarus complaining about her job, which was a thinly veiled—and incredibly popular—description of her real life job. Then she wrote a memoir, “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. And then wrote the screenplay for Juno (2007), which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. If they had an award for Best Original Screenwriter, she would have won that, too.
Juno is a completely charming, disarming, and utterly unexpected sort of comedy. Juno MacDuff (Ellen Page) is a 16 year-old girl who unexpectedly gets pregnant by the dorky boy (Michael Cera) who is smitten with her. Juno initially considers an abortion, but then decides to give the baby up for adoption to a wealthy suburban couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). Marvelous performances from a witty script that explores the complicated ways families deal with unexpected news. Plus, this movie features Allison Janney and J. K. Simmons, both of whom went on to win Academy Awards for performances in other movies (I, Tonya (2017) and Whiplash (2015)), but who are just gloriously sarcastic and down-to-earth as Juno’s parents.
If you’ve ever screwed up or found yourself in way over your head, this is the movie for you. Which means everyone should watch Juno. And when you’re done with Juno, here’s a few more movies about complicated families like yours… and mine.
Rollicking. That’s the best word to describe this hilarious comedy. It’s about a man searching for his biological parents, guided by an inept representative of the agency that handled his adoption when he was a baby. Ben Stiller is the young father obsessed with finding his biological parents, despite the objections of his adoptive parents (Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal). Patricia Arquette is his long-suffering wife, and Téa Leoni is the neurotic woman guiding the search. It turns into an amusing and ultimately heartfelt road picture. Lily Tomlin and Alan Alda also star, and the film was written and directed by David O. Russell, who went on to write and direct Silver Linings Playbook (2012). This is a wonderful comedy, and painfully truthful when it comes to complicated families.
This is no light-hearted romp, but it is an important and meaningful movie worth watching. Written by Jenny Lumet (daughter of director Sidney Lumet) and directed by the late Jonathan Demme, this film explores the searing cost of addiction on not only the individual, but on their entire family. Anne Hathaway brilliantly portrays Kym, the black-sheep-of-the-family sister who takes a break from rehab to attend her sister Rachel’s wedding. Emotional scenes take place, family secrets are exposed, and lines are drawn. It’s an outstanding drama and one definitely worth watching if your family struggles with these issues. I highly recommend this movie.
You may have never heard of this one, but it is a great melodrama. Set in the African American community in Louisiana, the young girl Eve (Jurnee Smollett) discovers that her father (Samuel L. Jackson), a highly respected doctor in the town of Eve’s Bayou, is having an affair. Her world is shattered. Eve gets a local witch (Diahann Carroll) to cast a voodoo spell on her father, and then quickly regrets it. Too late. If you’ve never see this movie, you’re in for a treat. It’s a heartbreaking, moody, and deeply affecting look at the impact infidelity has on a family.
This is a Wes Anderson movie, so you know it is going to be quirky and amusing and fun. And it is all these things, but it also has an emotional core that Anderson’s other movies tend to lack. The Tenenbaums were all so brilliant as teenagers, and now? Living on memories and working on failed projects. Anderson co-wrote the script with Owen Wilson, and they won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. What a cast: Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson. This movie is about a once-prominent family collapsing as times change. Lots of fun and quite amusing.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.