Saturday, June 07, 2008

Juno (2007)

If you haven’t seen “Juno” yet, you must be living under an even bigger rock than I am. It’s this year’s Little Miss Greek Wedding. “The little movie that could.” “Refreshing!” Surely you’ve heard the unbridled love-fest surrounding “Juno.” What it all boils down to is that a film with a small budget actually managed to find an audience. It happens at least every year or two, but somehow it always feels like the first time.

Once everybody got over the initial rush over this spunky, clever little film and it’s spunky, clever writer Diablo Cody (Isn’t that a spunky, clever name?), we all had to figure out which side of the “Juno” divide we were on. No sooner had people started to see and love the film than a “Juno” backlash started. Now, you either love it or hate it. You are either with “Juno” or with the terrorists. Myself, I went back and forth over it for a few months, loving it, then hating it, and then loving it again. I finally decided I would never be able to stop waffling unless I actually watched it.

The story is fairly straightforward. The title character, a teenaged girl named Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), does the nasty with her best male friend, track nerd Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). A few weeks later she is guzzling fruit punch to provide material for about a dozen home pregnancy tests. (Which, by the way, is what just about every mother I know has done upon getting pregnant. Isn’t one test enough? Maybe two. It’s like, “You had sex; your period’s late, and the line is pink. How much more evidence do you need?!”) She bails out on her initial plan to “nip it in the bud,” and opts for adoption. Juno thinks she has found the perfect parents in yuppies Mark and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), but…wait for it…it turns out they have some growing up of their own to do. See, you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you, just like you will know everything that is going to happen in “Juno” within about ten minutes of the opening credits. The plot is that shopworn and trite, and I find it amazing that writer Diablo Cody is such the toast of Hollywood based on this.

There is a German word, Witzelsucht, that refers to excessive attempts at humor. “Juno” is guilty of HipundCleversucht. Don’t get me wrong; there are some funny lines and catchphrases in the film; I love the term “up the spout” for pregnant. In too many scenes, though, the script is trying too hard to “crackle,” and it’s obvious the actors are reciting lines.

Many “Juno” fans aren’t even paying attention to all that, though, because they are so busy looking for the “reproductive issues” message. It’s hilarious how everyone has tried to claim this movie as a victory for their side. Right-to-Lifers celebrate Juno’s choice of adoption over abortion. Pro-Choicers celebrate the fact that she has a choice at all. Meanwhile, feminists can’t shut up about how great it is that someone made a movie about a girl. The real genius of Diablo Cody is not her screenwriting, but her marksmanship. She has managed to hit some previously unknown political sweet spot that makes all sides of the reproduction/gender issue love her film on some level, while maintaining the original political divisions.

What saves “Juno” as a movie is the acting. Page, Cera, Bateman, Garner, J.K. Simmons (as Juno’s dad), and Allison Janney (the stepmom) all deserve honors for taking this little movie up a notch. They make the movie fun and human enough that I would have to recommend the film despite my “Juno” cynicism. Ignore the hype; go into it expecting a fun, small movie, and you’ll probably have a good time.

3 stars out of 5

1 comment:

The Mungle said...

Great review. We certainly differ on our enjoyment of the film but I can't actually argue with any of your points.. haha.. nice writing style too, btw.