LOS ANGELES -- Diablo Cody's Cinderella moment had arrived. Her film "Juno" was less than four hours from its Hollywood premiere. Her highly anticipated comedy was about to be seen for the first time by hundreds of the industry's most important people. And so was Cody. It was to be a flashbulbs-and-red-carpet event and she had nothing to wear. With her husband, Jon Hunt, at her side, Cody blitzed L.A.'s Grove shopping arcade.
Her mall-rat jeans and T-shirt, Jeff Spicoli checkerboard Vans and gnawed black fingernails marked her as an infrequent visitor to the realm of exclusive retailing. "I loathe shopping," she groaned. When a clerk at Nordstrom suggested high heels, Cody shook her head. "I wish, I wish, I wish. No, I actually can't wear heels. I have nerve damage in my feet from stripping."
Conversation died in a 20-foot radius. Eyes snapped toward her. "That always gets looks," she said with an untroubled shrug. Welcome to the charmed and frenzied life of Minneapolis' most celebrated former exotic dancer, turned Hollywood's hottest scribe, whose prizewinning debut script has those in the know hailing her as the most distinctive new voice since Quentin Tarantino and a shoo-in Oscar nominee.
Steven Spielberg tapped Cody to write the pilot for "The United States of Tara," his Showtime series about a suburban mother (Toni Collette) with multiple personalities. Soon shooting will begin on "Jennifer's Body," her feminist horror comedy about a small-town Minnesota girl "who eats boys." Next up are "Girly Style," her take on college sex comedies; "Time and a Half," a hipster postgraduate satire, and "Burlesque," a musical about cabaret artists. And she owes her publisher a book this month.
"I'm completely overwhelmed," she admitted a month ago. "My entire life is completely upside-down. Promoting the film has been really exhausting. I'm a professional writer and yet I have fewer and fewer opportunities to write. And I have to try to maintain my personal life as well."
The chaos boiled over last week when she and Hunt announced the end of their marriage, a relationship that was often the subject of blissful commentary in her popular memoir "Candy Girl" and her widely read blog Pussy Ranch. Their split made headlines in the Los Angeles Times.
"We're not Brangelina," she said last Thursday. "I did not realize how much of a personality I had become until yesterday when all this stuff surfaced."
"Juno," a comedy about an accidentally pregnant Minnesota teen, was the surprise hit of the Toronto International Film Festival, where Roger Ebert wrote, "I don't know where I've heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm." Much of the credit has gone to Cody. Typically, writers are shipped to a Siberian gulag when the time comes to publicize a film, but the sassy, photogenic, ever-quotable screenwriter is the film's public face.
She not only shares the limelight with star Ellen Page and director Jason Reitman, but often eclipses them. She has captivated interviewers with her unique brand of profane feminism, lit-geek erudition and blistering wit. She was offered up as a sassy role model by Wired and interviewed in Esquire's "Women We Love" issue. She was "The Screenwriter" of the moment in Entertainment Weekly's holiday movie preview, and ranked 38th on the magazine's list of the 50 smartest people in Hollywood.
The frenzy of acclaim astonishes no one more than Cody, 29, who was living hand-to-mouth on her lap-dancing tips three years ago.
"We were always in debt," she recalled. "One day we literally had $9 left. We went to Cub Foods in St. Louis Park and bought a loaf of bread, a package of bologna and some generic cigarettes because my husband was still a smoker at the time. I remember saying to Jonny in the parking lot, 'Don't worry, honey, we can buy more bologna tomorrow after I finish stripping.' And we both started laughing so hard at how absurdly white-trash our situation was."
How times have changed. Cody arrived in full Hollywood regalia for "Juno's" searchlight premiere. She struck poses for photographers, looking like she'd be more at home in a hot rod than a studio limousine.
At the afterparty, praise for Cody's work flowed like champagne. John Malkovich, one of the film's producers, said her script was clearly destined as the blueprint for "a very good film. It was funny, original and well-written."
Jason Bateman, who plays a married yuppie adopting Juno's baby, said the screenplay "deserves to be the star of the film."
Costar J.K. Simmons concurred. "To me it's a completely unique voice. Brilliant dialogue. A great story. Characters that are unique, but totally believable. Any one of those characters could have been a caricature, but you know that she wrote those characters with a sense of affection for all of them."
Brook Joan Busey didn't set out to be Diablo Cody. She didn't concoct that identity until she entered the blogosphere in 2003, writing about her experiences in Mill City strip clubs, where she was known as Bonbon and Roxanne.
Her ribald observations about life onstage, backstage and in customers' laps, often illustrated with cheesecake self-portraits, cultivated the image of a hell-raising devil woman with a magma-hot libido. She moved from the Skyway Lounge to Scheik's to Deja Vu, then to peep-show booths at Sex World, where she would sometimes type into her laptop while on display, writing her dispatches in real time.
The money wasn't great -- $700 to $1,200 a week -- because she was not inclined to feign interest in her customers' fantasies. But it gave her something outrageous to write about on her blog, which helped her discover her voice. Readers gobbled it up. She was Web royalty, and she soon landed a job at City Pages, where she blended acid sarcasm with poetic turns of phrase.
Mason Novick, a Los Angeles producer and manager, discovered Cody's blog and suggested a comedic memoir. The first installment of her six-figure advance for "Candy Girl" arrived just in time to buy that much-needed package of bologna.
Cody created "Juno" when Novick urged her to whip up a script as a screenwriting sample. She worked herself into the heroine, a wisecracking know-it-all with a lot to learn. She gave Juno her own hyperarticulate speech patterns; Cody can't clear her throat without coining a kooky metaphor. High school memories played a part, too. "The film is a 90-minute apology to a guy I hurt," Cody said. "I hope he gets that and doesn't think the film is just full of coincidences."
Last week the film opened strongly in New York and Los Angeles, and Cody shared the National Board of Review award for best original screenplay. She called those distractions "a blessing" at a painful time.
Revealing intimate details of her personal life in her blog now seems to have been a Faustian bargain, spurring cynical conjecture about her professional life.
"Everybody always wants to leap to conclusions when you're dealing with a woman, particularly a woman who has bartered with her sexuality in the past. Even though that was commerce, that was actually the sex industry. I'm not surprised, and at the same time it is slightly nauseating," she said.
There's also the matter of Diablo Cody backlash. She concedes that former City Pages film critic Rob Nelson, a onetime colleague whom she had considered a friend, struck a nerve when he made unflattering comments about her body in an article for the Rake.
"It is a little bitter right now because you always internalize the bad stuff. It's one thing if you're Angelina Jolie and you're putting yourself out there as a character and you're splashed across the tabloids and you're making provocative statements to the press. Then you expect to be assaulted. Whereas when you're just a hometown writer you think everybody's going to be rooting for you. That was what I expected, naively."
After a calming breath, she added, "But I'm not complaining. I'd much rather do this than anything else."
Cody's friend Dana Fox, an established screenwriter, predicts a Technicolor happy ending, with Cody's sheer mastery of her craft overshadowing her notoriety.
"Everyone in this town loves a back story, and being a stripper actually gives her a bit of cachet," Fox explained. "That said, talent is all that counts. She's very street-smart and she's very, very intelligent about human nature. Being political in Hollywood is just understanding those things. You have to be able to work with people, you have to play the game a bit, do the dance a bit.
"If anybody knows how to dance, it's her, right?"