Friends, don't misunderstand me. Every now and again I have picked up that I will very strongly dislike something when the majority of people who encounter it really like it. When Modest Mouse became popular, this was true. When Feist showed up on TV, i flinched. But with Juno, i can say with no hyperbole that I disliked it before everyone else liked it. Allow me, if you will to explain why Juno is not the joyous little film everyone takes it to be.
1. The dialogue. When David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin writes a play/script, it is very obvious who each character really is. The author, because in Mamet's case nobody is so nuanced and slick as his characters always are. Not that I mind; Glengarry Glen Ross happens to be one of my favorite plays and a decent film as well. Aaron Sorkin has a similar problem in that he has apparently never spoken to anyone who isn't quick-witted and well-informed. Everybody is intelligent enough to carry themselves in conversation with everyone else; this is not simply not the case, but I forgive him because I like it when films and TV shows treat the audience as their intellectual equal, even if some logic goes missing in the process. What does all this mean? It means that when you go to write a story about politicians you've never met or gangsters you'll never meet, stylized dialogue is sometimes acceptable. When we're told that it is the year 2007, the dialogue better reflect it. Diablo Cody, doll of the media world, wrote this script using references from when she herself was a teenager, some ten fifteen years ago. There is simply no excuse for everyone in the film sounding like a 30 year old recalling her teenage years. Everyone's quick, up on arcane nods to films and tv shows no one saw when they were new in the early 90s.
The dialogue infuriated me when it got time to talk music and film. As a self-admitted dork with nothing better to do than listen to and obtain information about music and watch and then study movies, allow me to speak frankly. There is simply no way the music logic makes anything like sense. First we have a snarkey 16 year old music hound; she's started a band, listens to punk music, considers herself an expert. A cynic like her who wants to be on top of her game would know Sonic Youth, which Juno claims she doesn't when Jason Bateman's character plays her some. I knew about the Sonic Youth when i was 13 and bought my first of their records the next year. I didn't understand it, I thought it aimless, but dammit I knew. You don't delve into fields without picking up some names along the way. Sure she likens the Carpenters to the White Stripes, but ask her to name the first track on Daydream Nation and she's useless. Feh! Also, when's the last time you've met a 16 year old girl who likes Mott The Hoople. I think the only people I know who like them are men over 40, and even they've got their doubts. And as for delving. If someone had gotten to the point in their life where they were obsessed with director Dario Argento, they most assuredly would have heard the name Herschell Gordon Lewis. When you watch Italian Horror, it's never in a vacuum, there are other names flying around. No Fulci or Argento without Bava, none of them without Romero, Tobe Hooper or Roman Polanski, who took cues from Lewis and Hitchcock. I'm sorry this is nitpicking in the extreme, but that's the kind of person we are meant to think Juno is, but she doesn't follow through and instead just talks a big game and passes judgment without any knowledge of the things she claims to love. It just makes her seem all the more obnoxious to me. Also, I resent the portrayal of the girl at Planned Parenthood. You think they don't screen people for sensitivity for working the lobby of one of the tensest places in the world. Puh-leaze!
Brief aside: I've known the kind of girl who finds her teachers attractive. I'm very good friends with girls who still harbor feelings for their history teacher and science teacher. It isn't because they look authoritative or because they're knowledgeable, they find them attractive for the same reason any girl finds a man attractive: looks, pompousness, mere exposure. Her friend finding her 60 some odd year old professor attractive isn't logical.
2. The story. Yeah, I know we're supposed to have this explained by the quirkiness of the film overall, but I don't buy for a second that any teenage pregnancy would play out like this one. I don't buy for a second understanding parents like these, no matter how unassuming they're supposed to be. Similarly, there's no way that someone so radical and free-spirited as Juno would agree to give her child to Jennifer Garner's pre-stage mom. Especially because it's fairly obvious that neither of them has changed or learned a damn thing. So what we have are unexplained personality shifts that last about a minute. Come on. That's just lazy writing. More likely would have been her giving the kid to the irresponsible rock musician. Also, I don't care how sensitive said musician is, there's no way the slow dance happens the way it does. I believe that no matter how self-centered you are, you know the difference between what feels right and wrong. Dancing with a pregnant 16 year old in an empty house: that feels wrong.
3. Juno. A friend of mine who's an english teacher told me that he disliked the movie based mostly on the fact that Juno was mean and disrespectful. "Who wants to watch that?" I have to agree. I'm not a teacher, so I don't have the experience he's had dealing with nihilistic brats, but I think I get why he found her so unappealing. She's rude to everyone, reacts harshly to limits and reason, impetuous in the worst ways, doesn't learn or seem to change, treats the ones she loves horribly, and yet...they all still love her! Everyone forgives her for being stupid and mean, her boyfriend takes her back after a meaningless apology, one of many I get the feeling. Her parents overlook her direct refusal to do a single thing they ask, on top of them already being pretty non-plussed by the fact that SHE'S PREGNANT! She ONLY makes bad decisions and doesn't have a single new piece of wisdom or compassion to show for it.
4. Ivan Reitman's direction. The faux-rotoscoping, the Wes Anderson aping (especially in the music cues). His treatment doesn't do the script any favors and so he chooses to revel in the mediocre world of the story, choosing to make that seem much more interesting than it can claim to be. Look at Juno's bedroom; there are TGI Fridays with less kitsch! (This movie was practically about kitsch) He treats all side characters essentially the same; laconic and sympathetic, if bothersome to temperamental Juno. No one does more than their piece; Juno will get a moment alone with all the important characters where their personalities will be explained and they come off more sensitive than they are (though Diablo Cody shares the blame here). He seems to have forgotten that he's dealing with fictional people who say fictional things who receive fictional punishment for being heinous; I don't think anyone raises their voice in this film. Also, compositionally it was just kind of bland. I think there needs to be a 70 or 80 year moratorium for animation during live action films. It worked when Terry Gilliam did it. Here it just feels forced and uncomfortable. It was just too many slightly off-the-wall choices; like he was running down a check list. Quirky Music, ditzy friend, hipster shop-talk, kitsch, animation, still photograph cutaways, winks and nudges to better movies than this one, sing along. Check.
5. Kimya Dawson. I never liked her music, so obviously it was going to be an uphill battle for me to sit through a film where a good deal of the music (though inexplicably not all of it) was hers. Her voice drives me up the wall and her music and words aren't interesting enough to draw my attention away. To hinge your movie's sensitive time around music that sounds so much like cutesy nails-on-a-chalkboard, you're taking an unnecessary risk, especially when you've chosen to use other non-diagetic music in addition to this stuff. It's very oddly handled. Why not just pick one. All Kimya Dawson, or maybe one example of her music. Maybe he knew just how easy it is to get sick of her and decided half way through not to keep using her music. Also, why, after having a song appear OVER a montage, would you have characters break the fourth wall by having them sing the same song three minutes later. The girl next to me was still humming it when they started it up again. Really? Couldn't get any more creative? GAH!
6. Marketing. I think people wanted a Little Miss Sunshine to call their own this year and this was as close as they got. Darjeeling Limited and Margot At The Wedding were too tough for audiences to swallow and this was the closest they were going to get, so they begin talking it up as the sleeper hit of the year a la Little Miss Sunshine, before a single audience has seen it. You can't make statements about its success when it hasn't had a stab at any. They called this the little film that could and all that other horse shit, but it was going to be successful whether it was good or not. It was a quirky movie starring a quirky teenage girl, two Arrested Development stars, Dwight (even if his cameo was ABSOLUTELY POINTLESS), the boss from spiderman and a marginally attractive actress with weight to her name, Diablo Cody was already the toast of the town when this thing hit theatres (like Dwight on a job search: "Nothing's on the horizon except everything!"), so don't try and make it seem like there was even a chance that this would sneak by without anyone seeing it. It was bound for limelight and everyone knew it.
I don't like being lied to by films. And I especially don't like it when those liars get nominated for Best Picture. Even with all this to say, I still liked parts of it, I just don't think it deserves the parade everyone's been throwing for it since the poster appeared. I think it should serve as a lesson to the David Russells of the world who don't know when enough is enough. When you're making a quirky Wes Anderson-type film, you have to know when to reign it in. Noah Baumbach knows this and so his movies generally work. Little Miss Sunshine never relied too heavily on one element (and everybody LEARNS something) and worked well with a balance of wierd and uncomfortable things. Even Garden State had likeable and believale characters and in my estimation more respect for its audience than Juno ever does. My point is to tell you that Juno was the worst film ever made, my point is simply when you play with elements you have no control over, you're bound to misuse them and make some pretty serious mistakes. The Coen Brothers practically invented the American quirk film and can do it right when they want to, but they too have screwed with elements and been punished for it. Thankfully they seem to have missed the sound of applause and left thier Ladykillers phase behind them. They do deserve to win Best Picture....and they probably will.