Juno - Second Opinion
Review By: Joe

So, awhile ago, Gringo wrote a review of the oscar-nominated, critically-acclaimed, has-touched-the-hearts-and-minds-of-the-whole-goddamned-world-apparently movie about the little pregnant teen that could, Juno. I was only just able to see the film, as it just came out in the country I am in so I thought, since you got the perspective on Juno from a Brit living in the US, you might want to hear from an American in the UK. Sounds like something you'd want, doesn't it? And a new bike??? Well, you'll get at least one by the end of this review! Cross them fingers!!

Before reading Gringo's review, which is, shall we say, on the negative side, all I had heard of Juno was that it was supposed to be quite good. Gringo's review, however, helped lead me to believe otherwise. What also assisted this belief was these promotional videos of the lead actress, Ellen Page and the screenwriter, who I am just POSITIVE has had this awesome name since birth, Diablo Cody.

I must confess to being something of a masochist when it comes to cinema. I tend to be far more obsessed with the films I hate than the ones I love because when things work in a movie, I find there's less to discuss, whereas I can wax indignant over the movies I loathe for weeks on end, which is why girls really enjoy being around me. I especially delight in hating movies that seem to receive nearly unanimous acclaim; the last film I encountered like this was Pan's Labyrinth, which critics apparently love spending time ejaculating over original prints of and, anyone you ask who's seen it will probably tell you they thought it was great...and yet, when you ask them why it was so great they seem to have no real idea. Yes, I just said it's easier to complain than it is to talk about what's good in a movie, but I can still do it. I still have an idea of why I like the movies I like, I just prefer complaining about the ones I don't more.

So, basically, I had worked myself up into a veritable shitstorm of disgust for Juno long before I had seen it. Everything I'd seen pointed to it being appalling, whilst people continued to gush over it, it remained (and continues to remain!) in the top five in the US Box Office since its release, and it got Oscar-nominated not only for best screenplay, but best picture! Now, aside from my masochistic needs, I also felt that, with all the hate I was showering on Juno already, I'd really better go see it because, otherwise, ranting in my uneducated state made me no better than the Catholic church.

One might argue that there's no possible way I could've appreciated Juno because I'd already set myself up to detest it from the outset. However, I don't believe this to be so. I've gone into movies before with the idea that I was going to completely hate them and, if the movie is any good, I usually find myself pleasantly surprised. In a way, going in with spectacularly low expectations ensures that the movie has nowhere to go in my favor but up...this is, of course, unless it's utter shit. I will also argue that Juno had a fighting chance because I was so into the idea of going to see it and finding out how it matched up to my perception of it that I was probably more excited for it than I've been for a movie in quite some time. But what can I say? Juno is dead on arrival. It's an overrated shitpiece and it will never be anything but. And here's why.

You barely have to even bother assessing Juno in terms of anything except for the screenplay because the film starts with the screenplay and without a decent one, it's going to crash and burn. Juno's screenplay is not only flawed, it's a veritable rape in the eye of decent writing (much like this sentence). The first problem is the characters, namely because there aren't any.

This movie is populated by a number of "characters" who sound almost exactly the same. Basically, they sound the way Diablo Cody writes and thinks it is funny to write. Diablo Cody thinks it is funny that people refer to each other using odd, invented nicknames (e.g. homeskillet) and bizarre molestations of each other's first names so that's what almost the entire cast does. Diablo Cody thinks it's amusing for people to make obscure pop culture references roughly every ten words so that's what just about everybody does. Diablo Cody thinks it'd be nifty if everybody in the world, whether they be a spunky teen, a convenience store clerk, a middle-aged stepmother, or the woman at the desk in the abortion clinic spoke in a wacky, somewhat offensive manner with everything coming out of their mouths being a potential catch phrase, so, in Juno these people do just that.

Now, disregarding the fact that this nonsense sort of dialogue comes at you at a constant, rapid clip and is therefore rarely even deserving of a chuckle, I am aware of two possible arguments against my belief that it is entirely unrealistic. First off, according to a gent in our forum, he's witnessed the youth of today actually speaking in a manner such as this - making up their own crazy words and bringing up inane bits of pop culture trivia. I would counter this (LIKE IN A FIGHTING GAME, INTERNET) by saying that I still doubt that kids are rambling off this sort of absurdness with every sentence they say and, more importantly, it's not just kids who talk in this manner in the movie, it's everybody.

The second possible dispute that occurred to me is that I suppose you could say that I am trying to squeeze too much realism out of a film that is clearly attempting to set itself in an inane world in which everybody sounds like a pretentious stand-up comedian. I would disagree. I think there is far too much evidence in this film that points to Diablo Cody believing she was writing a genuine, emotional bit of dramedy based, essentially, in a facsimile of our society. The issue is that she's much more concerned with putting across her pristine sense of humor at every turn so that, when she does try to ground things a bit, it becomes obvious she has no idea how to write real characters who go through genuine situations.

Case in point, we have Jennifer Garner's character. Juno (the prego lead played by Ellen Page for those of you fully in the dark still) intends to give her baby up for adoption to a couple that wants a kid. Jennifer Garner is the wife in this couple and is Diablo Cody's attempt at writing the character of a "normal person." Unfortunately, because the characters in this film are incredibly one-dimensional, all of Garner's screentime can be summed up as, "she really wants to be a mother." There's seriously nothing else to it. Every single time she is onscreen she is obsessing over the child she'll be getting, someone else's children, or the concept of motherhood in general. Additionally, in support of the whole one-dimensional argument, there's the fact that, while the majority of the other characters are simply vehicles for more crap jokes, this character is a "real person" and is thus not allowed even one iota of a sense of humor. Her humorlessness is so complete that I honestly could see no reason her and the husband, played by Jason Bateman, would ever be together in the first place.

So the issue here is that this world is so heavily populated by ridiculous people, such as a father who uses the phrase "I'm gonna punch him in the weiner" and a girl at an abortion clinic desk declaring that boysenberry condoms make her "boyfriend's junk smell like pie" that, when we are presented with what are supposed to be real people with real emotions it feels forced, disjointed, and out of place. My friend rather brilliantly described the film as "a caricature of a movie," which I feel is extremely accurate. This is a major problem when we're dealing with what in theory should be a serious matter, that of teen pregnancy, because, well, I'm just not going to believe or care about any of it. Speaking of not caring...!!!

I think, because I'm going to keep rambling about this movie until I'm spent anyway, it's worth talking about the character of Juno herself because she's an arrogant little bitch. One would hope that the protagonist of a bit of fiction would be perhaps just a tad deeper than the rest of the ensemble. Diablo Cody must've read about this at one point because she shows a vague (a very, very vague) awareness of this. Juno goes through the whole movie talking about punk bands and referencing Thundercats and calling people "dude," but, perhaps!, she is just acting nonchalant to cover up her anxiety about pregnantism?? Well, I suppose that'd be the logical assumption and Juno shows hints of that maybe a total of five times. The problem is that it's not enough.

The possibility of emotion is, like everything else, pushed to one side to fit in more "comedy." We never get the feeling that Juno is changing or learning all that much, maybe largely because everybody seems to pretend as though her behavior is permissable (no big surprise considering they all talk just like her). Nobody in the movie tells her, "quit acting like a shitheel" so while there are a few mild emotional upsets, they just feel tacked on and then Juno goes back to being her same dickish little self and having everybody else pretty much accept that. I would say that, for me, Juno was easily the most dislikeable character in the film and, considering she's got more screen time than anybody else, that is not so good.

It's a duck!

The way the emotional portions are slapped in periodically, almost as though the screenplay was composed by way of some kind of paint-by-numbers kit, touches on another massive flaw: the structure. Diablo Cody had this little world of people who talked like her all ready to go and then plugged in a few elements to make it an actual story with some dramatic heft. Soooo...what dramatic sort of situation can we just jam in here...suicide? Death of a parent? Drug addiction? Friend with a terminal illness? Those are all good, but, let's stop the Wheel of Misfortune on teen pregnancy! Ah, there's a treasure trove of plot waiting to be uncovered in there! But the too-bad part is this: Diablo Cody was not a pregnant teen. In fact, she hasn't been pregnant (yes, I am sad enough to have looked into this). Now, I'm not saying that one has to go through all of the events of something they are writing about to knowledgeably write about them, I'm just saying there's a chance, when you deal with a serious, common, real-life issue that it might ring a bit hollow, which, here, it does. Like crazy!

First of all is the simple fact that we have a girl who doesn't seem to give a damn that she's having a kid. Yes, again, she has emotional walls and stuff, sure, but we see very, very little evidence that she cares at all. It's such a non-issue to her that it's almost like there's no baby at all; she's just a girl what got a big belly for some reason. But, more to the point, is the way the film's structure has specific checkpoints that are placed as though Cody remembered, "Oh! Right! Plot!" and just stuck them in so that she could get back to her fun word association games. For example, Juno heads to the abortion clinic (outside of which an Asian girl who speaks otherwise perfect English is protesting with the repeated phrase, "All babies want to get borned," for some reason).

Now, there's plenty of reasons for a pregnant teen to try going to the abortion clinic, then realize it's a frightening prospect and back out, but, in Juno, it's not exactly clear what about the place bothers her; it appears that she simply gets annoyed. Firstly, there's the desk girl offering her the flavored condoms which bugs her, but, then, as Juno sits down to fill out some forms, a quick little montage of people in the waiting room filing their nails, tapping on things, and making other repetitious noises begins. You've seen this sort of thing a million times before, in which a person suddenly becomes hyper-aware of the overbearing humanity around them as people chew gum, snap their fingers, what have you, until it becomes a cacophony of noise that sends the character running from the room. That's what this is, but, I'm sorry, what does that have to do with abortions? Okay, so maybe it would've been a little out of place if they gave Juno a pamphlet with a dead fetus on the cover to peruse before taking the plunge (as it's totally called), but I'm gonna say that there should've been some awareness of this being a dramatic situation here, rather than just "JUNO DIDN'T LIKE DAT WAITING ROOM SO SHE LEFT." It's like Diablo Cody just wrote down "scene where Juno thinks about an abortion but then doesn't do it" and then filled it in later in a ten-minute power-crunch session.

Another of the necessary scenes of the film, in which Juno makes a heavy decision about the future of her child, is depicted simply by her parking her car and lying on top of it for a bit. I'm not saying she should've had some dialogue stating "Hmm! What am I gonna do with this here baby?!" I'm saying that we've seen so little of this character at this point except her one side (that of being a little shit) that there's not too much of a reason for us to understand what sort of thoughts must be going through her mind. In other words, everything leading up to this moment has not earned this moment its presence in the film.

Juno has her pipe! That means she's thinking!

We also have the not entirely necessary, but definitely staple scene of the mother of the father of Juno's kid saying she doesn't care for the girl because "she's just...different." No, that's really the actual dialogue. The irony of this is that, in this crazy Diablo Cody world, Juno is just like everybody else. In fact, the girl who is her best friend is like an even more insane version of her, asking random people if they're gay and having fun slamming Juno's wheelchair into walls as she's going into labor.

Considering I'm actually struggling to recall pertinent scenes here, you should have a pretty good idea of how inconsequential the film usually is. Critics have been calling the plot "original" and I guess that's one way to look at it, because it's not often you get movies with almost no narrative drive whatsoever. The film opens with Juno being pregnant. Within the first fifteen minutes or so, she's picked the parents to adopt her baby. What happens after this? Quite literally, we wait for the baby. Everything that happens from there on is incredibly stagnant and predictable (with perhaps the exception of one weird upset). Especially considering that nobody attempts to rebuke Juno and what she wants to do, we're essentially guaranteed everything working out more or less how we imagine it will. Then we also get random scenes that have no apparent bearing on anything, like when Juno's stepmom (who, did anybody notice, had no dialogue that didn't contain the word "shit" somewhere in it at least once?) decides to have a conniption and chew out an ultrasound technician. Huh? What? Why? Uhhh, grrl power? Sure.

Actual dialogue!!

In terms of further structural problems are Juno's voiceovers. Yes, once in awhile we get to hear what that crazy girl is thinking. Voiceovers are something of a risky thing to play around with; it's probably most sensible to use them either sparsely at a few specific moments or have them worked in relatively constantly throughout. Juno throws caution to the wind by having them show up at a few random times and, instead of maybe actually giving us some insight into important aspects of the character, we're simply given her ingenious observations on society. Like how when she sees guys running in short shorts she can only think of pork swords! Hahaha! Dicks!!!! Nice one, Diablo!

So, that's the script and that's why Juno truly blows, but, I'll quickly mention the other aspects of this film as though they really matter all that much.

The actors do fine, some of them are even pretty good, but, when everybody acts the same way, and when that way is by pretending you're in an episode of a crap, edgy sitcom, who cares? As the Bible tells us, you can't polish a turd. Michael Cera has his own character, basically the awkward kid character he always plays, and does well with it, but he's barely in the movie and is mostly just another vessel to respond to Juno's snarky witticisms.

The music is, in my opinion, atrocious, whiny ear rape. It's done by the girl from the Moldy Peaches, who I thought were kind of amusing and okay in a novelty sort of way, but this stuff is just irritating. The lyrics to the songs are fairly goddamned deplorable too. They're trying to straddle some line between sweet and deliberately stupid, which instead results in them just falling over to the stupid side anyway. Hey! That's indicative of the rest of the movie too! Keen!!!

Oh, you wacky indie rockers, you!

Jason Reitman directed this. He also did Thank You For Smoking, which also had a lot of rather overblown, seemingly unrealistic characters, but in a different way (mostly because they still had personalities too) and it was actually a cool movie in the end. That movie was directed in a very specific style. Juno, however, shows very few hints of that and follows a rather conservative filming style. It's so standard (and so outshined (or outsucked, I guess) by the shoddy script) that it's barely even a concern. I suppose the one compliment I can give is that I'm glad Reitman decided to shoot this in a relatively straightforward fashion. This movie is annoying enough with all its attempts at being a Hollywood film in indie packaging; the last thing it needs is some shaky, handheld camerawork as the fartcherry on top.

Juno is bad because of its script. It was written by somebody who used to write for a blog and apparently transferred her blogging style straight over to a screenplay without any major editing. It's full of irritating, one-dimensional characters in a dead-end storyline. I'll admit to finding something like four parts in this movie funny, and I think it's fine if you think some of it is "okay," but if you believe Juno to be a genuinely good piece of filmmaking, I'm sorry, but you're wrong. I know I'm just some guy who spent way too much time bitching on his website that nobody reads and I know it got nominated for best screenplay, but I'm not going to say I think you are wrong in this case. I would say you are just plain wrong. Juno's script is so poorly composed that if you have some kind of respect for the thing, I believe you have a fundamentally flawed concept of basic narrative structure. If you cannot see that this movie doesn't just have some problems, but just about out and out fails in its attempt at crafting a story, I wonder if I can't serve up a screenplay about a monkey who goes for a walk one day, the only events interrupting this being him tripping over stuff a couple of times or stopping to fart. You know you'd fuckin' love it!

Whatever, it looks enough like a monkey.

I think Napoleon Dynamite (which, actually, is better than Juno because it is consistent in maintaining the inane behavior of all its characters) is largely to blame for a lot of these more recent movies that have the idea that they don't have to be genuinely funny or engaging just so long as everyone and everything is quirky and bizarre. I can name my favorite part of Juno. It's when a random kid shows up to talk to the father of Juno's kid and tells him a few funny, random comments, one of which is that he's going to stop wearing underwear to increase his sperm count. It's not like it's hugely different from the rest of the film, it just happens to be funnier dialogue than any other part. What I'm saying is that moments of inanity and pop culture references can have their place in a movie and, when used sparingly (along with an assortment of other fruits and flavors), can work quite well. However, we shouldn't be basing entire movies around this. Otherwise, you get the "indie" film equivalent of Family Guy.

If there's anybody who has read this far and really likes Juno through and through, I'd truly be interested to hear why. I will likely not agree with you, as I'm generally resolute on excluding such people from my circle of friends and inducting those who are in line with my way of thinking into my mysterious polygamist secret society, but I do want to know from whence this Juno love stems. Sometimes I can understand how something can completely polarize people, one side full on hating it and one brimming over with sweet love, but, in this case, I genuinely can't understand why this movie is seemingly giving people orgasms that last for three weeks after you walk out of the theater. I'm afraid this is the beginning of a trend of honoring pure shit as original and intelligent so if you can help me get to the bottom of this epidemic by way of e-mail or crazy internet forum, I would be in your debt.

I'll still think you're wrong though.


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