Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Juno (2007)


Like most of my reviews, this one is behind the times. Even more so, I think, because of the critical reception this film got and the accusations of “backlash” one might feel inclined to make towards what I am about to say.

I did not like Juno.

For those who haven't seen the poster, Juno is about the eponymous pregnant teenager (played by Ellen Page) and her decision to keep her baby long enough to give it up for adoption. A lot of talk has circled around whether this makes the film pro-choice or pro-life, and I'm not going to touch that because I don't think that's especially relevant. (I will say, however, that the string of recent “unwanted pregnancy” comedies in which no one seriously entertains the thought of abortion may be telling, but that's an issue for another day.) This is not my problem with the film, even if the ultimate abortion comedy will always be Citizen Ruth.

My problem with the film is that I felt that every single choice made in it, from slangy dialogue to cartoon opening to Cat Power was designed to take every hipster in the audience by the shoulders and say, “This film is for you, buddy. See what I did there? Those Chuck Taylors? That Thundercats reference? Don't you feel validated, now?”

The problem is, none of it was done very well. The references were off, and most of them didn't fit the characters. Apart from everyone talking the same artificial way, they often spoke without getting their facts straight. If Juno is such an old school punk aficionado, why is all the music Belle and Sebastian and Moldy Peaches? Why does a supposedly Japanese comic open on the right? Why in the world would Juno yell “Thundercats are go” when that was the Thunderbirds catchphrase?

It's “Thundercats, HO!” For the record.

Because, you see, you could put me in that nebulous hipster category no one owns up to. I wear Converse and (fake) vintage tees. I have the glasses, and a messenger bag, and every Belle and Sebastian CD, and I got all the references. That was exactly why I felt coddled by this film. People like me, people between the ages of Juno and Mark, are supposed to relate to both of them. Juno's old for her age, and Mark's young, and from that I think we're supposed to feel hip that 1) we can relate to teenagers and 2) yuppie parents can be hip, too.

This isn't to say I don't want films that speak to the ironic pop-culture saturated downwardly mobile geek I know I am. But I want it done right. From what I've read of interviews with the filmmakers, the music, color scheme and accessories were all carefully thought out, which highlights the film's self-conscious indie-incompetence and makes it of a piece with the preponderance of songs on the soundtrack that consist of lists of things sung in a monotone. Is there anyone in this movie who isn't a collection of quirks?

All that aside, and despite the vitriol, I didn't hate Juno. But the things I liked about it—Ellen Page in a hoodie, some of the music including the Belle and Sebastian song that always makes me cry, the curious and often untouched reality of a young girl not understanding her appeal to an older man—were sandwiched between so many appeals to my quirky sensibilities that I felt manipulated. The line is difficult to draw, but I think it lies between genuine characters portrayed with pop-culture savvy and pop-culture savvy (or attempts at such) portrayed as characters. And this might have been moot, had I walked into the film without the burden of Oscar noms weighing on it. As a small film, it would have passed muster as an afternoon's entertainment and provided flares of unexpected delight. But such is hype. Read more!