Diablo Cody Talks 'Tully,' Feminist Filmmaking, And The Underrated 'Jennifer's Body' [Interview]

If you’re hungry for more (and better) roles for women, you’re probably already obsessed with Diablo Cody. The same screenwriter who gave us iconic lines like Juno MacGuff’s “I’m calling to procure a hasty abortion” and Mavis Gary’s “Life, here I come,” is back with yet another ingenious and uniquely feminist narrative. “Tully,” her third collaboration with director Jason Reitman and second with lead Charlize Theron, follows mother Marlo as she embarks on a new and unusual friendship with her night nanny, Tully (Mackenzie Davis).

Our own Gregory Ellwood called the film a “comeback” where Cody’s “textbook quick wit has been slightly tempered to avoid distracting from the overall storytelling.” I would argue that “Tully,” rather than downplaying Cody’s characteristically fiery writing, marks a logical creative progression as her projects mature. The film is subtle and artful in a way that “Juno” fans might not be used to, but it is undoubtedly an essential addition to Cody’s portfolio.

From creating TV shows “United States of Tara” and “One Mississippi” to underrated film projects like “Young Adult” and “Ricki and the Flash,” Diablo Cody clearly does not give a fuck if you don’t vibe with her avant-garde, intentionally female-specific visions – but she’s also a thoughtful creative with important stuff to say. I was lucky enough to glean some of that wisdom – on such subjects as bisexuality, mermaids, and “Jennifer’s Body” – during our “Tully” talk. 

Okay, I’m not sure if I and other members of the Internet Lesbian Mafia just totally made this up, or if it’s a real thing, but here goes. Marlo, the protagonist of this movie, was in a serious relationship with Violet (a woman she runs into in a coffee shop early on in the film) before she was with her husband, yes?
The Internet Lesbian Mafia, I’m dying to answer this question. Yes. Yes, Violet was her ex-girlfriend.

I feel so vindicated. Tell me about your decision to make that a part of Marlo’s backstory.
Well there used to actually be more about that. In an earlier draft of the script, she kind of went into detail about the fact that – honestly, she just called herself gay, but – she went into detail about her bisexuality, and her relationship with Violet, and how it was an incredibly profound and intense time in her life. And that her marriage, while it was a great relationship in many ways, was a bit more mundane. So, yeah, it was just kind of about the contrast between those passionate relationships people often have when they’re young, and then the sort of companionate love that develops when you grow old with somebody. But there wasn’t a political reason behind making her ex a woman; it was just the story of that character, I guess. It’s not a story you see told super often. They always have to turn it into like, a thing in a movie, and for me it was important that it was just, “Yeah, her last partner happened to be a woman.”

And you can see how she wants to reconnect with a past part of herself later on in the movie, and Violet really symbolizes that for her.
The scene where she rides the Citi Bike to Violet’s apartment was really important to me, because, for her, that loss is where it all went down. If she can just get back in there, she can access her youth again and all those feelings.

Time for my other favorite undercurrent in this script. Let’s talk mermaid imagery.
When I was personally going through this experience of having had my third child and feeling completely overwhelmed, I really could only compare that sensation to being underwater. It honestly felt like the atmosphere around me was thicker, and that gravity was affecting me in a more intense way, and I just thought the mermaid seemed like the perfect symbol of help. [It’s] the idea of somebody coming down to kind of pull you up to the surface and allow you to take a breath, which is what Tully did for Marlo. And they ultimately both end up in the water, too, so.

Right, the sinister edge to a mermaid is that she can also be a siren. Is the reveal at the end of the film sort of getting at that?
Yeah, that’s true, too. Mermaids are historically – historically, I say that like they’re real – usually, yeah, there’s that alluring, dangerous side. Tully helps her and does also seduce her in a way that is ultimately a little bit dangerous.

But still Marlo and Tully’s final scene together is so bittersweet.
Yeah. That was a tough scene to write.

How so?
I didn’t really know how to resolve things, and at that point, we had no idea how people were going to interpret the ending. And I’ve been really just pleasantly surprised to discover that people are interpreting the ending in exactly the way that I would like them to. But at the time, we just thought – we didn’t know. And honestly, that was a tough task for Jason [Reitman], because he had to really construct that third act in a specific way, so that things wouldn’t be too obvious, and things were open to interpretation, but at the same time people understood what we were trying to do.