Tuesday, February 19, 2008
regarding juno
Hating Juno seems to be as popular right now as buzzing it up was last fall, so let me begin by saying that the objective of this post isn't to shred the film. Truth is, I liked Juno – at least, parts of it – so crucifying it would never have been my intent. It was what I expected it to be - a cute, feel-good piece that succeeded in making me smile, cringe and get all emotionally swollen. However, Juno also irritated the hell out of me, and before you get frustrated and roll your eyes, please allow me a minute to explain why.

I could go on for miles on all the nitpicky things that got under my skin, but even I admit that many of those irritants (like: Why all the cute indie rock music in a movie where the protagonist so clearly embraces the 1970s punk scene?, and "Honest to blog" this dialogue is annoying!) aren't particularly important to the overall product, and addressing a long list of grievances is annoyingly hypercritical. But here's my biggest issue, the one I couldn't shake, the one that prompted me to write this post rather than just leave well enough alone: Juno is a completely unrealistic sixteen-year-old girl.

Since we're only sixteen for one short year of our lives it's easy to forget what the experience was truly like, but having spent the better part of the past seven years with them, I know of sixteen-year-old girls. And not just in a classroom; I've logged plenty of hours with them in their natural state. I've wandered through myriad cities with them, stayed in hotels with them, endured day-long bus trips and airplane flights with them, played games, watched movies, gone shopping and gossiped with them, and counseled them on every imaginable aspect of their drama-filled lives. I know them. And not just for one year - I see sixteen-year-olds every year. They may forget what they were like, but on my end there's a revolving door of them to serve as a constant reminder.

From where I stand, rather than creating a truly believable protagonist, Diablo Cody created the sixteen-year-old girl we all wish we could have been - one who is sharp, composed, rational, witty, independent and in control. But you know what? That's not real. At least, not to be all these things at such a young, awkward age. In the character of Juno, Cody created the girl we all wished we could have been; however, this girl is, unfortunately, a fantasy, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get past that. Would it have been nice to have been or at least to have been friends with someone like Juno? Of course. But I see Juno like Ferris Bueller* - most of us would have liked to have been like that as a teen; however, it just wasn't so.

Now, you may protest that this film is fiction, and as such it can house any sort of character it likes. I won't argue that point with you; however, here's the thing: Juno isn't just any sweet little coming-of-age comedy. It's a Best Picture nominee, and as such it is now the target of more criticism than it ever would have received otherwise (mine included). Did I like Ferris Bueller's Day Off? Of course. Would I have balked if it were nominated for a Best Picture Oscar? Absolutely. And although Juno is a stronger, more serious, and far more complex piece than the aforementioned one, I just can't get behind it taking a spot as one of the five best films of 2007.

Overall, Juno is a good little film that probably doesn't deserve all this disdain, but I can't blame the critics. I blame the Academy (whose judgment I stopped trusting the moment Titanic took home a Best Picture trophy, by the way). Juno should have been left alone to be adored by its many fans, so shame on the Academy for putting such unfair pressure on such tiny little shoulders.

* Credit for the Ferris Bueller/Juno parallel should go to my husband, although I support the comparison.

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Blogger cornshake said...

i absosmurfly agree. i couldn't get past the unbelievablility of the lead character, but she did great with the script and the other actors... and seeing as i only saw NCFOMen, i am still rooting for Juno for best pic b/c i just cannot root for a movie that has THAT much fricking violence and zero character development. I am still miffed that Waitress was overlooked in screenplay...

Blogger Mrs. White said...

Since you brought it up, I would have much preferred Waitress to have filled Juno's spot. Between the two film, it had a much stronger script, better developed characters, was more visually appealing, and resonated much more strongly with me.

Blogger Carrie said...

I'll give you the soundtrack thing, fine; that's a completely legitimate critique. But I never even thought to critize Juno for being an unrealistic portrayal of a 16 year old, because I don't think there are any realistic portrayals of teenagers in movies or TV.

So, I guess I ask, what do you consider realistic? Is there a film or tv show you think captures teens correctly? I'm hard pressed to think of one; I think once teens start being written by adults, they infuse too much adult-ness into the characters.

Let's look at my favorite item of pop culture of all time - Buffy. Was Buffy a realistic portrayal of a 16 year old? Probably not. In some ways, in the mistakes she made, etc., she was, but in the way she talked? Hell no. Does that make it any less worthy of the critical praise it recieved? I don't think so. I'd say the same about Friday Night Lights (16 year olds played by dudes with permanent 5 o'clock shadow) or Veronica Mars, to bring up more recent examples.

The closest I think anyone ever got was My So-Called Life. Perhaps someone would say Kids, or Thirteen (which I never saw), but I wouldn't say those movies represent the "norm".

Anyway, I guess my point is, I think it's hard to capture such a fleeting period of life, especially when you look back on it with adult-colored glasses. I completely agree with you that Juno is not how 16 year olds act, and it's an idealistic portrayal of how we'd all like to be at 16. (I also look at it kind of like The West Wing- no one talks like that in real life either.)

So, I guess my point is, since I think it's rather hard to capture that age, does that mean we should never award anyone who tries? And again, maybe you can remind me of better examples. I understand you're much closer to it than the rest of us, I'm just pointing out a different perspective.

Blogger paul said...

Thanks for blogspiring me to chase some paper over on our business...

But one dig here ladies:

How can a movie about a sixteen year old girl who has an implausible mode of speech and level of knowledge of 80's punk rock be LESS REALISTIC than a cutesy southern waitress who makes "I hate my husband banana pie" and gets 300K from Andy Griffith?

We can debate story and character all day, but if realism is the primary factor (as you say) for not liking Juno, I don't see how that doesn't come to play in the very similarly toned Waitress... :)

Blogger JMW said...

This is exactly right, and I'm airlifting at least two paragraphs of it over to my blog. Carrie's comment here is smart, but this would be my response -- the movie has been praised by some for precisely the idea that we finally get to see a "real" girl on screen. Page herself has said this over and over again.

Blogger Istvan Szerencse said...

Come now! Do you know hating on Juno is sooooo last week? It's all about hating on Obama, now.

Blogger paul said...

Good point, JMW. And I think it's COMPLETELY fair to judge those critics (and the star) who say the film is "realistic" when perhaps it's not. I have no problem with assessing them as incorrect, but you're shifting the premise. I think the idea is whether judging a film based on its realism, at least in this case, is as fair of a critique. You can claim that the film aspired for realism and missed the mark. But I think there's a difference between disagreeing with the way a film is reviewed or marketed and judging the movie as a movie.

At the end of the day, everyone liked the movie at least somewhat it seems. My point is at the end of the day there are a lot of movies with similar tones and aspirations that don't come off as fully "realistic." So why the Juno hating? Just because some of the filmakers/critics think it's more realistic than you, or I, do? I can see that, I suppose.

Blogger Carrie said...

Hmmm... For me, I have praised Juno not for it's realistic portrayal of teenage life, but for telling a different type of girl's story. I assume that's what the filmmaker and star mean when they say it's realistic, whether that's accurate or not. Which is besides the point, since we should be judging the movie on its merits, not on what people are saying to sell it.

What happened to suspension of disbelief when we head to the movies? I doubt that There Will Be Blood is a completely realistic portrayal of the oil industry. I mean, I'm no historical expert, so I surely could be wrong, but I'm just guessing.

Blogger Mrs. White said...

Wow, you guys have been busy. I'll try to address some issues as best I can despite today's throbbing migraine.

First - Paul, regarding your comment about Waitress being unrealistic, I'd argue that there is a distinct difference between characters being put in unrealistic situations and characters being portrayed unrealistically. I "bought" all the characters in Waitress, even if I can admit that the ending was unrealistically serendipitous.

Carrie, I disagree that adults can't realistically write about kids because they are no longer kids themselves. That line of thinking would then imply that men can't create believable female characters, straight writers can't write believably about homosexuals, etc etc. Pointing specifically to the Oscar noms, I think Michael Cera's character was pretty believable, as was the character of Briony from Atonement. Personally, I just don't buy Juno.

Everyone - from what I understand, Cody set to remedy the unfortunate fact that smart, witty teenage girls are sorely underrepresented in films. And kudos to her for that; it's a great point to address. However, that point falters in its effectiveness if the "realistic" character she's aiming to create fails to actually be realistic.

And as for whether or not a lack of realism is necessary to make a film good, I don't think that's necessarily so. Comedies rely on exaggeration to create humor. However, in this particular situation the lack of believability of this particular character hindered my enjoyment of the film.

Again, I never said I didn't like the film. Despite all these things I still couldn't help but like the little booger. I just don't think it should have been nominated for best pictures's all.

(And P.S. - I polled all my classes today, and not a single student recognized the saying "Thundercats are Go!" Arguably, it was the funniest moment of the film when Juno went into labor screaming that line. But again, the thirty-year-old screenplay writer is using dialogue and making references that kids today wouldn't make. Again, call me nitpicky, but I'm not so sure she did her homework.)

Blogger paul said...

Damn, Mrs. White. Way to keep me thinking. I've been listening to all these film podcasts lately that are basically just a bunch of nerds talking about films and then had the gusto to record it, and kept thinking "Wow. My friends and I could do this!" Apparently we can. And you could be our moderator :)

Blogger JMW said...

I'm not hating on Juno. I liked it. I guess when so many people respond about why they like it -- and in this case, a lot of that seemed to revolve around the realism of Juno (this is separate from realism in general -- I actually liked how real the setting and some other characters felt) -- it's hard not to address that. Anyway....go Thundercats.

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