The worlds of Diablo Cody are for outsiders only. The Oscar-winning screenwriter takes us out of a satanic ritual in Jennifer's body on a high school athletic field Junobut none of its sets are as technicolor as Lisa Frankensteinthe film directed by Zelda Williams will be released in theaters on February 9. A retelling of Mary Shelley's novel, the film is a vibrant mashup of big hair and Pixies' needle drops that would make maximalists like Pedro Almodóvar proud.
The film follows Lisa Swallows (Katherine Newton), a 17-year-old misfit, whose mother has just been brutally killed by an ax murderer. Sent to live with her father, new stepmother and stepsister, Lisa spends most of her time in a haunted cemetery ogling the bust of a man who died hundreds of years ago. Thanks to a faulty tanning bed, he is brought back to life one stormy night as a half-mute creature (an unrecognizable Cole Sprouse). What follows is a gothic love story in the tradition of what Cody calls “build-ab*tch” narratives, where men constructed “the perfect woman” in films like A strange science. (Cue Bella Poarch!) Cody subverts the genre, having Lisa build the perfect man-creature, who protects her from evil forces like unstable stepmothers and teenage abusers, all while wearing a band t-shirt Violent women.
NYLON caught up with Cody ahead of the film's release to discuss his return to the horror genre, a potential Jennifer's body sequel, and the screenwriting rules she broke Lisa Frankenstein.
When did you first have the idea and when did you start writing it?
I had this idea of a love story between a living girl and a dead man germinating in my mind. I think I envisioned it as a Dusktype T melodrama, and then when I sat down and started writing it in 2020, I quickly realized that it was definitely going to have more elements of comedy and camp. I was really trying to create a colorful world. The process itself was pretty quick, but then I was left with this kind of square scenario and I was like, “Who's going to do this?” It's not easy these days to make films like this, and especially not in theaters.
Can you tell us about the “build-ab*tch” concept and why you wanted to transpose it?
I feel like we've had stories in our culture about men envisioning the perfect woman, even in the old Pygmalion stories. When I was a kid in the 80s, I was a huge John Hughes fan. There was this movie A strange science, which was about these two guys creating the perfect woman, and they're literally sitting at their big 80s computer adjusting the size of her breasts on screen. I think that really stuck with me as a kid. I remember thinking, “Oh, we have these narratives about what men want and what would it look like if we flipped the script?” »
I like that in the film, the object of the young woman's gaze is just someone who listens to you.
She has him totally friendly for much of the movie, but like you said, he has the ear to listen. She is able to reuse her attacker's hand and he uses it as a tool for pleasure, which we don't really see. I just said “a pleasure tool”. It's so cringe. God, stop me. This is what happens at 45. We are just beginning to humble ourselves. He's the ultimate listener and he's gentle and I think that's not what everyone wants, but I think it's an expression of what some women want… That was what I wanted when I was Lisa's age.
What interested you in the 80s? Why did you want to define it then?
I have a very strong nostalgic connection to the 80s because that's when I grew up. This movie is set in 1989, and I was 11 at the time, so I wasn't quite Lisa's age, but I was completely obsessed with teenagers. The girls had big hair and harsh eyeliner and it was, aesthetically, a really extra decade, and so obviously that lends itself to cinema. Zelda had fun with this. Plus, I was going to revive this guy with a tanning bed, so it must have been the 80s.
Did you think about any of these great musical moments while writing?
They always tell you, as a screenwriter, that you shouldn't put specific songs in your scripts, because first of all, it tends to turn off directors. But I can never control myself, and fortunately, Zelda is a very good collaborator. She saw these songs and said, “I want to get as many of these for you as possible.” » She immediately understood the atmosphere. There's this very specific subgenre of late 80s goth music, bordering on 90s punk. I'm glad we have a Pixies song and of course we have 80s pop , like REO Speedwagon. But I told myself that if I could use this film to feed Galaxie 500 to Generation Z, I would.
This is your first horror film since Jennifer's body. What was your approach to this horror story compared to this one?
They're different, but I think they're cousins. When I wrote Jennifer's body, I was so excited because it was the genre I had always wanted to work in, and suddenly I was given the opportunity. I was in a really good place in my career at that time because I had just won an Oscar. When that happens, there's a very short window of time where people come to you and say, “You can do whatever you want.” Here is the financing. So I said, “I know exactly what I want to do.” It’s this cannibalistic movie for teenage girls. Somehow we were able to make this movie, and I loved it so much, and the director loved it, and we were so proud of it.
And then it was a catastrophic fiasco. It wasn't just a box office failure. There was such incredibly mean dialogue around the movie, because I guess Megan [Fox] had the audacity to say true things in an interview. The cultural attitude was: “You should just be grateful to be in show business.” » It was a difficult time.
Suddenly, in the last two years, the film has seen a resurgence of appreciation and found a new audience. If that hadn't happened, I never would have had the confidence to return to that genre because I had internalized a long time ago that no one wanted a horror comedy from me. Now that I realize the audience is here for this, I was so excited. It was healing. It was something I never imagined would happen.
You recently said that you wanted to make a sequel to Jennifer's body. Can you talk about that?
I think it was always my dream, but I certainly didn't think it would be realistic. People rarely want to make sequels to movies that don't work. Now I feel like that might be a possibility. Even though I have always said, to my knowledge, Buffy the Vampire Slayer The film was not a success in its time, and yet the TV series was very successful, so that's the comparison I continue to use as I desperately try to bring this project to town. I'm ready to go. I just need to build the right team that believes in me.
What would the sequel look like?
I have no idea, because I was like, “You could do a sequel where Jennifer and Needy are adults now.” We can bring Jennifer back. We can do whatever we want in this world. I could do a prequel, we could do a musical. The possibilities are limitless.
Have you and Megan Fox or Amanda Seyfried ever talked about Jennifer's body backlash?
I have since spoken to Amanda. We never really had a serious conversation about what happened with Jennifer's body. However, Megan and I did it several times, and because Amanda came out unscathed – obviously it was painful for her to be in a movie that was dragged to hell – but it was really Megan who suffered the brunt of the criticism at that time. It traumatized her, for sure, and it sucked for me too. We talked about it and I think we feel vindicated now, but at the same time it would have been nice if it hadn't happened at all. That would have been ideal.
Are there any other projects you're really passionate about or genres you'd like to get into?
I started my career writing comedies and I would like to do it again because the last film I did before this one was Tully, which was semi-autobiographical and very serious about postpartum depression. To be one of them Lisa Frankenstein earth, which seems much brighter, I keep thinking, “Okay, next one, I just want to write something really funny.” I want to write another comedy like Juno. It's been a long time since I've done this.
What haven’t you been asked yet about this film?
Few people really asked me what the film meant emotionally. It's really about a culture wanting us to forget traumatic events. It’s in the best interest of the culture to move forward and start working and buying things again. I think the Victorians had a different attitude towards grief, and in this film Lisa is allowed to go through a full grieving process for the loss of her mother and literally embrace death in the form of this creature. And for me, that was a very important central theme.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.