January 03, 2009

muffins of triumph


One of the 897 problems I had with Diablo Cody’s “Juno” was the disconnect between dialogue and character. Eighteen year olds talked like thirty-three year olds; forty year olds spoke like twenty-two year olds; and too many actions were tethered to neither logic nor plausible impulse. I didn’t know who I was supposed to be watching or what level of skepticism I was supposed to bring to the table. Michael Cera’s barrage of convulsively sincere Hail Marys was meant to balance out the teams but it wasn’t the right counterweight to Cody’s zeitgeist buckshot. (Sports and guns metaphor pile-up. Ugh. Onwards.)

The “Juno” script did a lot of honking with little soundproofing. Those people wouldn’t say or do those things. Why would a teenager have a thirty-something’s taste in kitsch? Why would a ruthless teenager be friends with an outcast? How would the mercilessly accurate eye of a teenager mistake Ellen Page for anything less than FOYNE? Tedious.

Now, in the Showtime TV series “United State of Tara,” Cody has taken all of that dissonance and stuffed it into the title character, a mother of two played by the wondrous Toni Collette. This decision (and maybe I am reaching) seems like an implicit admission of “Juno”’s flaws. That movie’s insufferable dialogue has literally been pathologized—Tara’s dialogue is distributed among her various fictive personalities. We no longer need to believe the dialogue, because dialogue and character have been, de jure, separated. The words becomes pure performance, connected only to the vague backstory of “Mom’s problem.” Not only do we not have to buy Tara’s schtick, we have a whole cast of characters (our Greek chorus of family and friends) confirming that Tara’s various voices are all equally false, which allows us to enjoy them at face value in a way we couldn’t in “Juno,” where had to BUY it. In “USOT,” we only have to buy that people flip out and act out, which is both more interesting and a much easier sell.

United States of Tara”: password: tara

(Also hard not to project some imagined version of Cody’s own misgivings about going red carpet onto Tara’s first videotaped speech/message in a bottle.)

Posted by Sasha at January 3, 2009 01:55 AM | TrackBack