The release of Juno on Region 2 DVD yesterday has sent more than one friend scrambling to relive the precious experience or else be taken in for the first time. One of them foolishly asked my opinion of the movie. I haven’t seen it since December but its cuteness is still pretty well seared in my memory, so here are a few thoughts to rouse discussion/incite wrath.
The most most concise but exhaustive description of Juno was made by Dennis Cozzalio who said:
The script reads like it’s meant to be reprinted whole hog under the IMDB “memorable quotes” tab (and a quick look there reveals that it practically has been.)
Bullseye! The only thing more devastating I could add is that Diablo Cody has a lot in common with Tarantino because all their characters sound like the same person, and the script dominates the actors. It sort of bullies them. I’m not against highly mannered dialogue, like in nearly every Coen Bros. movie; but in, say, the Big Lebowski the dialogue still sounds natural in each character’s mouth.
Ellen Page is the only one who manages to pull it off, and even though I kind of despise the movie I don’t begrudge her the Best Actress nom because any other actress would have been more annoying trying to pull it off. I also thought Jen Garner was good because it was the first time I’ve ever seen her actually play a character.
My friend states that Ellen Page is a true comic, which I agree with because her worst acting is when she tries to be serious for a moment and says “I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.” It was so awkward I actually couldn’t wait to return to the “honest to blog” dialogue!
Actually, now that I think about it, Jason Bateman’s interpretation of the punny jokes was quite subversive and revelatory of the screenplay’s true nature. When he says “Technically, that would be kicking it Old Testament” he interprets the line as a really terrible pun which forces everyone in the room to rightly groan. Whereas if it had been one of Juno’s lines on the phone to her girlfriend it would have been just another one in her stream of effortlessly “clever” quips.
But ironically, kicking it Old Testament was one of the lines I laughed out loud at, along with Juno’s line about the Chinese shooting babies out of t-shirt canons. But this just proves the only way the movie can be enjoyed: rehearsing “which jokes I liked.” The movie is like a rapid-fire comedian who figures if he can squeeze in three times as many jokes than his average competitor he’ll have a better chance of being as funny if not funnier than than them. But it’s the comedy version of the Michael Bay Principle: if an explosion is good then more must be better. Not that I’d mind a movie that had more jokes than most comedies as long as it wasn’t so smug and precious.
Dennis makes another point which I think is valid:
And speaking of music, it’s only severely disingenuous that a movie whose main character name-checks seminal punk rockers like Iggy and the Stooges and holds them up as a barometer of everyone else’s taste in music would eschew that very punk rock at every turn, instead making room on its soundtrack for Mott the Hoople, the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Sticking with You” and, to use my friend Kim Morgan’s word, twee singer-songwriters like Belle and Sebastian and the ubiquitous Kimya Dawson. (Maybe Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, surmised that Iggy might put off a goodly portion of the real-life Junos and their 18-to-25-year-old brothers and sisters who have spare change to spend on the soundtrack album.)
What to make of this disconnect? Would it have been redundant to hear the music incessantly name dropped? At least when Tarantino is subjecting you to a remedial book report about some slice of “obscure popular” culture, he has the decency to let you listen to the topic of discussion in the background. But now look what I’ve been led to do — defend Tarantino’s most annoying vice! (If I’m never heard from again it’s no doubt because I’ve ceased to exist, resulting from this commission of intellectual suicide.)
I hate not liking a popular movie since I style myself a champion of populist cinema but Juno feels disingenuous from start to finish. (Not unlike the ubiquitous description of “Diablo Cody” as the exotic-dancer-turned-author, even though the reason she became a stripper for a year was in order to write a book about it!) For a 2007 movie more honest about pregnancy, try all the other ones: Knocked Up; 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days; and Waitress.