By Kyle | November 19, 2007
[note: This is a rerun of my comments on “Juno” for new readers]:
I don’t think any film this year left me as ambivalent as “Juno,” the kind of film that wins the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, the Academy’s annual nod to hip. Previous winners include “Pulp Fiction,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” The winter’s no. 1 subject of party chatter will be: “Knocked Up” or “Juno”?
“Juno” is frequently funny, often winsome and way offbeat. Being the hipster film of the year, though, presents a couple of problems. One is that hipsters are a pretty demanding group. Surely they’ll say that wearing an ironic retro T-shirt over a long-sleeved T-shirt is a tired look that’s been around for at least five years.
Another is that hipsters are kind of annoying, particularly over time; “Juno” seemed brilliant to me for its first ten minutes but at 90 minutes it amounts to the world’s longest Belle and Sebastian or Ben Folds song.
Moreover, the hipster jive that dances across every page of this script (that word is more applicable than story)–about a supercool teen (Ellen Page) who discovers she’s pregnant and decides to have the baby but give it up for adoption–stumbles a lot too. Would a 16-year-old girl really drop references to “The Goonies” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”? I don’t know many 16-year-olds but I’m willing to bet Soupy Sales is not one of their cultural reference points. Screenwriter Diablo Cody is billed as 28 but her references–“boss,” “rad”–sound suspiciously 38-ish; her Juno is also curiously bereft of hip-hop and Web-based slang.
That would matter less if the talk weren’t the movie; the thin characters around Juno essentially exist to either cluelessly absorb her barbs or fire back one-liners that sound exactly like hers. (Rainn Wilson’s store clerk: “Your eggo is preggo.” Another clerk, at an abortion clinic: “We need to know about every score and every sore.” Her dad says of the boy who knocked her up, “I’m gonna punch that Bleeker kid in the wiener;” her stepmom (Allison Janney) tells the woman who performs the ultrasound, “My five-year-old daughter could do that and she’s not the brightest bulb in the tanning bed.”) And so on.
There is so much one-linering going on that only one character forms, if that. Juno is a kid who handles the news that she’s pregnant with hipsterisms; breaks it to her parents with hipsterisms; describes her social ostracization with hipsterisms, hipsterizes on a trip to an abortion clinic, hipsterizes when picking out prospective adoptive parents (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as a couple of suburban yupsters). Pregnancy is a bit more fraught than this, and there is no 16-year-old of the past, present or future who is so supremely confident as Juno. She is as much a fantasy figure as Superman, only for sardonic girls instead of nerdy boys. For every moment in “Knocked Up” that makes you think: that is exactly how people are, there is a corresponding one in “Juno” that makes you think the opposite.
Nor does the film really develop relationships: Juno strikes up a strange flirtation with the Bateman character because it turns out they have the same taste in guitars, music and horror movies; meanwhile, she treats the father of her baby (Michael Cera) as an afterthought. Their scenes together are a hipsterism contest in which neither seems to care about much except getting a laugh. (She: “I got bored and had sex with you.” He: “I know you weren’t bored that day because there was a lot of good stuff on TV.”)
As if to slap a bit of feeling onto Juno, the script gives her several crying scenes, but crying scenes don’t make you feel a movie any more than having a character laugh makes a movie funny. For the most part, Juno is cool with whatever happens to her. Why should we care if she doesn’t?