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Juno

A Film by Jason Reitman

Blame it on the conservatization of American society. Blame it on the evangelical bent of a certain current administration. Blame it on Hollywood forcing "family friendly" down our throats at the expense of artistic credibility. Blame it on a movie-going public hungry for fast food and easy art. Hell, blame it on the bossa nova if you must. Whatever the reason, it is nothing short of criminal that while a film as provocative as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is making the rounds of film festivals and art house screenings all over the world, a film as reprehensible as Juno - the very antithesis of the former film - is taking America by storm, tugging at the nation's heart strings with all its annoying pluckiness and box office good looks. A harrowing Romanian über-drama about abortion and the emotional scars it leaves on a woman vs. a so-hip-it-hurts comedy about teen pregnancy, orange tic tacs and Sunny D.

Now I am not saying Juno should be about abortion or even necessarily be pro-choice, but to gloss over the subject with nothing more than a snicker and a giggle, and go on to show an extremely unrealistically bright-eyed view of teen pregnancy (with only a few mild bumps along the way, Juno's nine months flies by as if a summer vacation full of parties and pop rocks) is not only flippantly irresponsible but arrogantly moralizing. In fact the whole thing just reeks of candy coloured conservatism. One critic mentioned how when Juno comes sprinting out of the abortion clinic (which by the way resembles a tattoo parlour more than anything else, complete with indifferent punk chick at the front desk) she had to check under her seat for her purse and her rights. Pushing forward a neanderthalic religiopolitical agenda to a public with one eye blind and the other conveniently looking the other way, this is placation with pretty pander. Cookies and ice cream from conception to confection.

Add to this fluffed up right wing rhetoric the most annoyingly coy too-cool-for-school screenplay this side of The Gilmore Girls and you are left with a film devoid not only of any social responsibility whatsoever but any cinematic integrity. Teetering on the edge of indie schlock from beginning to end - and every nauseating bit in between - Jason Reitman's cutsie-pie validation of teen pregnancy (it's alright honey, just give the baby to an affluent white couple and everything will be a-ok in the end) is like a wrecking ball heading straight for your apartment, but all you can do is watch as everything you own is reduced to a safe and manageable PG-13 rubble.

In the end though, Reitman's little movie-that-could (this year's Little Miss Sunshine, just add bubblegum bombast) no matter how devoid of sensibility and/or responsibility it may be, does have something going for it. That something is Ellen Page as the (a little too) articulate titular mommy-to-be (and then not-to-be). Last seen as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand and before that as little red riding hood with an axe to grind in the surprisingly ingratiating Hard Candy, Page plays Juno better and wiser and with much more charm, dignity and sincerity than her character or this film deserves. Aided by a comfortingly human Jason Bateman and a surprisingly sincere Michael Cera, Page, chewing down hard on Diablo Cody's words, actually pulls off the overly-affected Juno without much trouble, or without even much seeming effort.

She nearly makes one forget the contemptible surroundings we are made to endure. The smugly pretentious screenplay that ironically probably plays over the head of most of those who consider the film to be a blast and leads everyone to believe the average sixteen year old speaks as if doing a constant riff from an expletive-empty Quentin Tarantino movie. The idea that handing over your baby to the first rich white yuppies you find in the Penny Saver is taking the moral highground - and God will thank you in the end. The constant barrage of crocodile tear moments. The quirky supporting cast that no indie film (partially subsidized by 20th Century Fox or not) can do without - complete with a running gag about running shorts that has already been done in a much more endearing way in The Royal Tanenbaums. The ubiquitous moralizing so blatant it makes Forrest Gump light up with liberal glee. She nearly makes you forget all of that, but alas, no actor is that talented. Hell, even Meryl Streep equipped with her own way-back machine and doing her best Dorothy Parker-esque hipster speak accent would have fallen short here. Actually, Streep would have probably been smart enough to know the politics of the screenplay, and known to back away from the film.

Politics aside though, what may be even a worse crime than Reitman and Cody's insensitively sugar-coated diatribe on teen pregnancy (the actual subject of teen sex is glossed over with as much don't-ask-don't-tell nonchalance as abortion is, as exampled when first hearing of his daughter's 'condition', Juno's father mocks the sexual prowess of the baby's father by saying "I didn't think he had it in him.") is the fact that, pro-life, pro-choice or pro-whatever, barring Page's performance, Juno just isn't that interesting of a movie. Bombastic yes, but in the most banal of ways. Cookie-cuttered and manicured into the safest of bets to take the whole family (and learn a valuable lesson he said quite tongue-in-cheek), Juno is nothing more than a PG-13 concoction of wholesome, manipulatively weepy dramedy archetypes, laid out in a nice neat complication-free box office hit. No artistic challenges. No creative chances. No cinematic choices. Just typical fodder for the masses who want to pretend they are much hipper and smarter than they really are.

And what is the fringe benefit of such a folly? Other than so much money for so little input, it is that little golden statue Hollywood has been handing out every year for 80+ years now. Just nominated for four Oscars, Juno is set to steal gold from four much better films. Now I certainly do not begrudge Ms. Page her Best Actress nomination - after all she does wonders with a character who is basically a chubby walking, talking cliché - but I am sure screams of outrage, and more than a few expletives, will spew forth from my lips when Juno, just as the near-equally reprehensible Crash did two years prior, steals the Academy Award away from four far superior motion pictures because the voting populace of the Academy is just as brainwashed into enchantment as the average movie-going population of this America.

To end on much the same note I started on, with a spate of unwanted pregnancies in movies this year, it should probably be law that every time someone watches Juno or any of the other pro-life happy ending fairy tales released in 2007 (the insufferably pesky Knocked Up, the insufferably perky Waitress) one should be made to watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Not just as a pro-choice alternative nor just because artistically it is the far superior film (although that is quite a good reason indeed) but because one cannot live in the hypoallergenic Hollywood bubble of PG-13 forever. [01/23/08]

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