Wednesday, January 09, 2008

REVIEW: Juno

Everything you've heard is true. After a long wait, 2007 finally has it's mandatory "indie sensation:" i.e. a nominally indie-produced 'quirky' comedy. A cynical man would point out that, top to bottom, the very prospect of BEING a year's "indie sensation" is what got this made in the first place - how could you NOT see said prospect just looking at it's bona-fides: A chuckle-funny coming-of-age bit set smack-dab in "wacky" Flyover Country, riddled with jokey observational humor about suburban eclecticism penned by a former exotic dancer turned screenwriter? Nah, NOTHING about that would start the "Next Napolean Dynamite" glands a-waterin'. Total surprise to all involved, surely.

Yes, a cynical man would point that out... but he'd still like the movie.

Make no mistake: What we've got here is "Napolean Dynamite" crossed with "Knocked Up." The titular Juno McGuff (Ellen Paige from "Hard Candy," she's a star, told ya so) is too-clever-by-half 16 year-old suburban she-geek who's life revolves around two hobbies: Making dry/faux-jaded observations about how quirky the lawn-gnomes-and-Ron-Popeil world around her is and being a (largely unaware) passive-aggressive cocktease toward her boy-who's-also-a-friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Sera from "Superbad," cementing his status as the lord and master of the awkward teenaged love scene.) That second one sets things in motion when, mostly (she says) out of lack of anything else to do, she and Paulie get about the business of experimenting and she winds up "in the family way."

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way: YES, it's worth acknowledging that the fact that "Juno's" world and characters are middle-class and predominantly-white is the main reason why the movie is able to convincingly pull of the psuedo-edgy concept of a high school pregnancy as fodder for a cutsie-poo laffer; and that there's plenty of people for whom a 16 year-old with a baby-bump is a hard fact of everyday life rather than something else for a smart-alecky tomboy to wax the pop-philosophic about ("They call me the Cautionary Whale!" wakka-wakka-wakka!) Fine. Acknowledged. Now take the elephant out back and shoot it, 'cause that's neither here nor there: In the context of the movie this is a learning experience and a through-way to observe relationship dynamics. That's it. Juno has a capable support-structure, an understanding family and this isn't going to ruin her life. Sometimes, that's how it works out.

What makes this all work is that the film slowly reveals itself to be doing something you're not necessarily expecting from an "everyone-else-is-such-a-dope" teen girl starrer penned by a writer who named herself Diablo Cody (who's holy-shit cute, by the way): Giving Juno's too-hip-for-the-room smugness a gentle kick in the ass. She's positive that she can just have the baby, give it up for adoption to a well-off couple and get right back to life unfazed. The young couple in question meet her exacting standards easily - well, at least the husband (Jason Bateman) does: He's a songwriter still dreaming of the rocker's life with a cool taste in music who strikes her as a fellow hipster. The wife (Jennifer Garner, who's acting ability I MIGHT now owe an appology to) is a bit of a plastic control-freak who rubs her the wrong way.

See, in a lesser movie, these characters would be the ones with something to learn from wise-beyond-her-years Juno - but this isn't a lesser movie, and it's Juno who's got some things to learn. Namely that she might NOT be a master-observer able to instantly size-up everyone and everything completely; and that there might be more to someone's worth than the approximate level of their hipness. Oh, and the REALLY difficult one: That she might need to drop the smug act altogether in order to actually appreciate certain people in her life - mainly Paulie, who probably-sorta-kinda-maybe loves her.

This is a good, sweet little movie that's using a little bit of indie-quirk to wash down a whole lot of genuine heart. You already know that everyone likes it, so do I, so will you.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

4 comments:

nancy said...

Well that's typical... why is it everyone has to preface Diablo Cody as a stripper turned writer rather than just a writer? What does her being a stripper have anything to do with it?

Bob said...

nancy
"Well that's typical... why is it everyone has to preface Diablo Cody as a stripper turned writer rather than just a writer? What does her being a stripper have anything to do with it?"

Well, in THIS case it's in there because I'M writing the review and I happen to find it both incredibly interesting (how many screenwriters do you know who were exotic dancers? Not many) and also evocative of the innevitability of the film's indie-sensation status (every indie sensation must have at least ONE maker with a "colorful" backstory) which was the point of the paragraph the reference appeared in.

I'm not really sure what's being objected to here - I did not write as a "slight" against Mrs. Cody and I wouldn't since I don't have anything at all "against" the profession in question. Also, it's not as though this is some secret information she's running from the shadow of - she wrote a BOOK ABOUT IT. She blogged about it. She mentions it every chance she gets. It's one of her calling-cards, a key piece of her personal mythology no different from Tarantino's "my film school was working in a video store" or Kevin Smith's Quik-Stop history. Why SHOULDN'T I mention it?

nancy said...

The difference is that with Tarantino and Smith it at least has something to do with their movies or filmmaking.

But with female filmmakers they always have to be viewed in a sexual context. It's never enough that they just be good at what they do.

It's almost as inane as your Napoleon Dynamite comment. Why does any film with a lower budget and a smart script have to be trying to imitate some other movie in your view? This movie has nothing to do with Napoleon Dynamite and sure they want to be a sensation. What filmmaker makes a movie hoping no one wants to see it?

You seem to have this desperate need to appear smarter than every movie, to have figured out all its angles and be able to say it doesn't have you fooled, even when you like it.

Bob said...

"But with female filmmakers they always have to be viewed in a sexual context. It's never enough that they just be good at what they do. "

It's not sexual context, it's a BIOGRAPHICAL context. Cody has, by her own choosing - and SMARTLY by the way - made this a key part of her offbeat/hipster indie bonafides by the same token that she writes under her quirky non-de-plume: She's engineered her public persona into "Kevin Smith meets The Suicide Girls," and it's a damn good angle at that. Hell, do you know how many aspiring screenwriters would KILL to have that kind of instant positive attention getter in their mythos?

"It's almost as inane as your Napoleon Dynamite comment. Why does any film with a lower budget and a smart script have to be trying to imitate some other movie in your view?"

First and foremost, "Napolean Dynamite" had a CUTE script... I'm not sure I'd go as far as "smart." That said, If you honestly do not see how blatantly this film is chasing after "Napolean's" fanbase I'm not sure where else to go since we are clearly living on two different planes of existance. Set aside all the more subtle similarities - like that the one-liners and sight-gags are mostly based off of how corny/endearing the flat-country 'burbs are - and just look at the most obvious: It has the same exact type of music on the soundtrack and it's even using "notebook scribbling" font for the scene transition headings.