Joe’s Blog

Archive for April, 2009

Juno (2007)

April 10, 2009 8:06 am

juno

If you find yourself watching a high school comedy (it could happen) and you can’t decide if what you’re watching is a medium-budget piece of Hollywood fluff, or a zero-budget, heartfelt indie film, there are some simples tests you can apply.

(a) Is your main character a tall, attractive blonde, from a rich family, who’s a bit of a bitch, but will learn the error of her ways by the end of the film, and probably end up with the sensitive bloke rather than the wanky jock-type ‘stud’ she wanted?

(b) Or is she a, short, akward brunette, considered a bit odd by her peers, has a very small circle of friends, comes from a poor (probably broken) home and rejects all potential suitors until she realises that she fancies a boy who she’s probably been friends with since she was in nappies?

Or how about:

(a) Is the soundtrack filled with pop songs by the hottest acts and dance track remixes?

(b) Is the soundtrack filled with IMPOSSIBLY hip stuff by singer-songwriters, and ‘alternative’ acts, many of whom you’ve never heard of?

Or:

(a) Do the characters talk in exaggerated ‘teen’ talk, endlessly discussing going to the mall, cars, dad’s credit card?

(b) Do the characters talk in quirky slang, endlessly discussing cool bands and obscure films?

If you answered mostly (a), surprise surprise, you’re watching a probably guiltily entertaining piece of Hollywood pap like Clueless, or Mean Girls, chuckling away and probably hating yourself when its finished.

If you answered mostly (b) you’ve just wasted your time on another breakout indie hit, that critics have wet themselves to praise as ‘the future for filmmaking’, but you’ve considered a very dull, worthy comedy-drama, which forgot to include much in the way of laughs.

That, or Juno.

I really wanted to like Juno. At the time of its release I felt sorry for it, because its cinmea release in the UK coincided within weeks of the release of the bigger budgeted, high-profile, Knocked Up. Juno‘s later Oscar success meant it found its audience on DVD. Having seen both films now, I can only say my sympathy for Juno was misplaced.

It’s quite easy to say what’s wrong with Juno. It has nothing to do the cast, who are, to a man, brilliant. Ellen Paige is shaping up to be a star for years to come, and Michael Cera is a very gifted comic actor, despite (or maybe because of) his far-from-matinee idol looks. The support cast includes the wonderful JK Simmons, the astonishing Jason Bateman (watch Teen Wolf Too and tell me that’s the same actor) and even Jennifer Garner.

It’s not really the direction either. Jason ‘my dad made Ghostbusters‘ Reitman does a fine job.

What let’s it down, is ironically what won the film it’s Oscar. The script by Diablo Cody is diabolical.

Now, Ms Cody became the subject of much press attention when it emerged that this neophyte scritpwriter used to be a stripper. Whoop-de-fucking-do. I hope she was better at that than writing. Everything about Juno strikes of indie-by-the-numbers. Every scene has at least two crowbarred ‘quirky’ one-liners inserted into it; every character is a wise cracker, whether it suits them or not; everyone is cool in their own way; and absolutely NOTHING is believable in anyway. And that includes Ms Cody’s name. Becuase it’s not. Christ, she’s even created a quirky alter-ego for herself.

If you don’t know, Juno is a 16 year old who gets pregnant after her only sexual experience with her male friend, Bleeker, a geeky runner with an obsession with orange TicTacs (!). Her only other friend appears to be a cheerleader, Leah, who fancies the fat, bearded geography teacher (ker-azy!). She has absolutely so bearing on the plot at all, and merely pops up supportively at opportune moments, normally just as you’re forgetting that she’s in the film. So we’ve got a ‘deep’, emo girl who’s only two friends are a cheerleader and a geek jock… Mmmm… interesting mix. I’ve spent a day in an American high school, and believe me, Heathers is the most realistic portrayal of high school cliques I’ve ever seen. This is fantasy stuff.

Juno does make it to the abortion clinic, but after an encounter with a a girl from her school who is protesting and claims foetuses have fingernails, Juno then has a change of heart because the waiting room is bit noisy, what with everyone having amplified fingers and pens. So she decides to keep it, and give it up to a pair of Stepford Yuppies who can’t conceive, Mark and Vanessa (played by Bateman and Garner).

What so far, has been infuriating cutesy and kooky, but still watchable, now descends into another deminsion of awfulness completely. Juno and Mark become close, as they both play guitar (and seemingly nothing else). They have kooky conversations about music, but their tastes seem to be reversed, with Juno preferring 70s punk, and Mark liking late 80’s garage and grunge. They argue about the merits of Sonic Youth (Juno thinks they’re weird, but likes The Stooges!), and he introduces her to the joys of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, which she proclaim are cooler than Suspiria (released in 1977, the same year as punk’s peak… mmm, I’m noticing something here. This is what passes as character development.

On the subject of music, the whole thing has one of the most grating soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The whole thing is filled with simpering, ‘cool’, guitar balladry of the alternative variety. It’s so self-conscious everytime I song started I expected Juno to face the camera and go “hey, cool tune… what do you mean you don’t know who Belle and Sebastian are? I can’t believe you don’t know them!” Well, I do, and they’re a good band, but two songs almost back-to-back, I could do without in a  film. Loved the Cat Power version of Sea of Love though.

But, as I said earlier the whole thing is soooooooo cool, it alienates you from the story. Hey, maybe that was the point. It’s just so by-the-numbers, there really isn’t an original idea in the whole 90 minutes (and it felt longer than that: I had three cigarette breaks; I can normally manage without if the film’s any good). Everything in it reminded me of things like Garden State, which, of course, just made it seem even worse, because anything that reminds me of that joyless two hours of my life should be taken out and shot. Fuck The Shins!

When all’s said and done though, Juno still retains a smidgen of sympathy from me because it was 2008’s independant toe in the water. Every year has one. The year before it was Little Miss Sunshine. You know, the quirky, wacky film that every critic falls in love with, and manages to persuade the public this is the kind of film they should watch all the time. Then the public forgets that it really likes films without the marketing budget equal to the GNP of some European countries and goes back to watching Epic Movie. And yes, there is no link to that.