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Juno (2007)

by on 2011/09/04


“Quite frankly this looks a little stupid.”

A year or more ago, we got together to watch Juno. I’d seen it in a bargain bin and remembered its great word of mouth. Perhaps as little as fifteen minutes into its running, we shook our heads, threw up our hands, and ejected the disc from the drive.

I appreciate postmodernism and the unconventional, but this effort’s relentless self-conscious quirk drove the both of us totally mad. We cast it off and blamed the script by wunderkind Diablo Cody.

So why try again? I could say enough time had passed, or perhaps I was in the right mood but, in truth, I was reminded the director was none other than Jason Reitman. For many a footnote to his father, Ivan, I actually prefer Jason’s work. I enjoyed Thank You for Smoking, and Up in the Air is probably the best film I haven’t reviewed since we started the site way back when. Then Gru mentioned seeing Jennifer’s Body, also written by Cody, and how it took her by surprise.

Thus, all of the pieces fell into place, and Juno was given another chance.

* * * *

“They call me the cautionary whale.”

Juno MacGuff (Whip It’s Ellen Page) is fifteen years old, floating through high school, and newly impregnated. The father, Paulie Bleeker (Scott Pilgrim’s Michael Cera) is around, yet rarely “there”, preoccupied with marathons and such. After a failed attempt at abortion, she decides to bear the child. She intends to give it up for adoption to a well-to-do couple: Mark (Dodgeball’s Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Daredevil’s Jennifer Garner).

* * * *

“Get a whiff of those sparkling top notes.”

Right from the beginning, the screenplay tested my resolve. In a brief appearance, The Office’s Rainn Wilson delivers the sort of dialogue which has me seeing red.

  • “What’s the prognosis, Fertile Myrtle?”
  • “Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it.”
  • “This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.”

The cuteness is grating no matter the actor delivering it but, oddly, it’s the main characters who get most twee. The setting around them is a familiar one, throwing their wacky behaviour in excruciatingly sharp relief.

I thought of a documentary I’d seen about Monty Python. John Cleese suggested a certain reality and its rules are established, and humour would spring from the breaking of those rules.

I also remembered Napoleon Dynamite, how it created an environment more fully committed to its quirk.

Unlike either, Juno is inexplicably weird without any rhyme or reason. Some players are strange, some are not, but their lives are “normal” ones. Even on my second try, expecting that mismatch didn’t keep me from shuddering a bit.

* * * *

“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.”

Hers is not an outlandish world, and its inhabitants are a mixed lot. Not everyone is eccentric, so I assumed Juno was unusual. Was her manner a reaction to stress? No. To judge by context, others accept her given ways.

On the surface, she resembles Ghost World’s Enid, only less manipulative . . . or Heathers’ Veronica after freeing herself from the clique. Her heart is in the right place, but she’s difficult or, at least, bizarre.

She combines ignorance and arrogance, lashing out at the few who support her. She plays passive aggressive, then loses her cool when suggestions she makes are acted upon. She struck me as unpleasant and difficult to take. My ability to empathize or understand her root issues was threatened by the resulting behaviour itself.

It wasn’t until late in the game I discovered a way to decode her. She and Mark are arguing different artistic views. She thinks he’s “old” and listens to “cute” music. She says to him, “Well, when you’re used to the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges, everything else sounds kind of precious by comparison.” (Precious? Look who’s talking.)

It occurred to me she was so burned out, being over-energized, she’d lost the capacity to perceive subtlety, nuance, normality. Though I shared an easy kinship with Bateman’s aging hipster, I suddenly felt the pathos of her existence.

* * * *

“My life is in boxes.”

Until nearly the end of the story, I related less to Juno than to Mark. I cared more about the adoptive couple’s arc.

Mark is a commercial composer, a could-have-been rock star. His wife’s obsession with parenthood drives his interests out of sight. She resents his love of music, his working from home — “watching movies and not contributing” — and assigns him a room to sequester all his stuff: computers, comics, instruments, and so on.

As a couple they have little in common, and less so as time goes on. To the writer’s and actors’ credit, they are more than filler cast. They benefit from their own involving arcs, at least as compelling as Juno’s. The parts are neither good nor bad . . . an interesting mix, very real.

Bateman and Garner’s performances are neither showy nor ostentatious. Knowing them primarily from Silver Spoons and Alias, respectively, I hadn’t seen them do such grounded roles.

In fact, I think I stuck around for them.

* * * *

“I can’t feel anything. It’s not moving for me.”

There was another obstacle to surviving the experience: the music. The third-party selections I didn’t mind but I had trouble with the (many) Kimya Dawson tracks, those of her solo, and together with the Moldy Peaches and Antsy Pants.

Admittedly fitting the odd dialogue, the lyrics are distinguished by being less cryptic than obvious. Exceptionally loud in the mix, an audience can’t help paying attention to the selection of tracks, many exceedingly same-y all too soon.

I recalled the Hollywood legend of Steve McQueen in Magnificent Seven. Supposedly, when in a scene without any speech of his own, he would draw attention (visually) to himself while another spoke their lines. Yul Brynner, it is told, did not appreciate this approach.

Similarly, I disliked the songs stealing focus from the picture intermittently. As if clubbing us over the head with their volume weren’t bad enough, their sentiments weren’t sufficiently profound. Apparently exploring variations on “88 Lines About 44 Women”, obvieties are delivered in unsubtle concession to rhyme.

* * * *

“I was thinking I’d just nip it in the bud, before it gets worse.”

My initial impression was accurate. This feature falls firmly in the same group as Away We Go, Garden State, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. It has Ghost World and Napoleon Dynamite leanings, if lacking their greater commitment.

Nonetheless, it grew on me eventually, when I found the right places to search: the supporting cast, some choice dialogue, and the occasional non-Dawson song. It began to endear itself to me.

It’s rare that I’m won over in nearly the eleventh hour, but that’s exactly what Juno has finally done. When I began to watch, I expected my review would be along the lines of:

  • Juno? Just . . . no.

or

  • Kitty Pryde + Scott Pilgrim = hate crime

Instead I’ve come around to:

  • I’m glad I was wrong.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

96 minutes

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