Somewhere between watching Hard Candy (2005) at the cinema and picking up a DVD boxset of ReGenesis (2004) I became a huge Ellen Page fan. I think she’s a genius actress (and mighty cute to boot), so naturally I was glad to see her get more widespread attention and public acclaim when Juno came out in 2007… even if an unfortunate (and entirely subjective) critical snafu prevents me from fully appreciating its charms. I’m not saying I don’t find the film funny and moving at times… it’s just that when the credits finally roll, I always find myself left with a rather annoying aftertaste. Of course, there’s no point denying that jealousy might have something to do with my negative reaction… I mean, it’s kinda hard not to resent Diablo Cody for scoring such a big success with her first screenplay… but I don’t think that’s the whole reason.
First of all, I should probably explain my history with the music of Kimya Dawson and The Moldy Peaches. Long before they were featured in this film, I’d already gone through a phase of hearing them on the radio, loving their album, and then playing it to death. But after a while their style started to grate on me more and more, as I began to get the sneaking suspicion they were (metaphorically) sneering at me through the speakers. There didn’t seem to be any soul or passion in their music, just a slightly self-satisfied smugness over how sloppy they could be and still con people into buy their discs. I mean, the first time I heard a phone ring in the background of one of their songs, it seemed funny… but once the novelty wore off, it really started to bug me. It was painful enough to hear their music used on the soundtrack, but the revelation that Page had recommended them herself was a total crush-killer for me. And now, after rewatching the film, I’ve got the damn songs stuck in my head all over again, which isn’t making me any more partial to the people who put them there!
Second of all, as a writer I consider myself quite forgiving when it comes to overly stylised or mannered dialogue… but Juno goes way over the line into “taking the piss” territory. To be fair, the overt slang-slinging does seem to settle down in the second half of the film, but that restraint comes too late to save us from hearing Rainn Wilson deliver this bon mot: “That’s one doodle that can’t be undid, home-skillet.” Which just reminds me of the absurd “jive talk” that Wyatt Cenac breaks into when he’s voicing the Michael Steele puppet on The Daily Show. Of course, many viewers might have said the same thing about teen flicks from my era like Heathers (1989) or Clueless (1995)… so maybe it’s just a generational thing? Or is there something especially egregious about the characters’ quirkier-than-thou attitude that bugs me? To be honest, I don’t really find Juno to be a very sympathetic character… even though she’s technically an “outsider” type, she doesn’t really qualify as an underdog, because her eccentricities seem so contrived and obnoxious. Even when a jock makes fun of her, she arrogantly assures herself that it’s simply because he secretly fancies her… and, worse yet, the film actually validates her theory! Fact is, if she was half as smart as she thinks she is, then she would have known to use some form of contraception during her pre-meditated seduction of Bleeker… then the story could have been about something else instead… like the school’s actual underdogs plotting to steal her poseur pipe, or something. Every now and then on the internet I will encounter people spitting out the word “hipster” as a slur… but I never understood their vitriol until I watched Juno, and witnessed just how galling full-frontal hipsterism can be.
Still, it pains me to say mean things about this flick, because it does have such a great cast, and they all deliver such fantastic performances. Even Emily Perkins, in her thankless cameo as “Punk Receptionist”, managed to score a big laugh out of me just by smirking that slightly manic smirk of hers. Bless. I love the way Michael Cera underplays everything, while still subtly hinting at the emotional storm that’s raging behind his quiet, kindly exterior… and his improv in the deleted scenes about Danny Trejo was hilarious. Heck, I think he might be one of my new favourite actors! Jennifer Garner is absolutely heartbreaking as the desperate wannabe-mother, so strict and rigid about how she runs her house, but so warm and playful with other people’s children. Jason Bateman is very charming and funny, even when he’s being totally spineless and skeevy. J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney are awesome, as always. And Olivia Thirlby is great as Juno’s BFF too. I don’t have a bad word to say against any of the cast, in fact. Love, love, love them all. It’s just the characters they’re playing that piss me off!
If someone told me Juno was their favourite film, I’m not sure how I’d respond. I can certainly see why so many people love it, and obviously it’s vastly superior to something like The House Bunny… but still, I might feel duty bound to make them watch Ghost World (2001) and The Opposite of Sex (1998), to get some perspective…