Tuesday, February 19, 2008

'Juno': It's quirky, and that's OK



My fascination with “Juno” was hard-fought. I’ve courted more “quirky comedies” on dark, lonely nights in empty theaters than I care to confess, and I, like this flick’s eponymous heroine, have become a bit tired of it all. A bit jaded in trusted company.

I’m done with the quirk, I say to myself time and time again.

Why should a flick about a sassy pregnant teenager matter to me? Why should this girl, who successfully pairs the words pork and swords in a sentence, have any bearing on my real life?

Juno matters because of screenwriter Diablo Cody.

What really works about Juno is her labored but exhaustively amusing use of language.

It’s her curious knowledge of cult horror films. Her indie music savvy. Her crude but poetic turns of phrase. Juno calls herself “the cautionary whale,” and it’s all posturing, you say? It’s too screenwriter? It’s so scripted? Yes, yes, yes, and it’s so very teenage in a way that so kens the teenage mind.

Teenage years are one endless, confusing search for meaning through words. Can you think of a better contemporary practitioner of balderdash bingo than Juno?

Enough from me.

Is “Juno” your favorite of the Oscar nominees? Is it your least?

What’s the movie’s best line?

How does “Juno” measure up to recent teenage quirk like “Rushmore,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Superbad?”

How great is this City Pages interview?

And what do you think about this argument about “low-hanging fruit?”

6 comments:

Chris-Brad said...

"Juno" is one of those flicks that really causes some internal arguments with cinephiles. On one hand "Juno" is a great flick. It's fun, it's different, and it has some awesome tunes. On the other, is it really worthy of a Best Picture nomination? Ultimately, that is a question for each individual. And that, my friends, is one of the reasons why I love films. There never is a right or wrong answer. Everything is subjective. Everything!

For me "Juno" gets the nod because of Diablo Cody's script. I have read several articles about her and by her. She is definitely an intriguing screenwriter (to say the least). It isn't the best of the year, which is why it will not win, but it deserves the recognition. In fact, most people would agree that a lot of films get Best Pic nods for the recognition and not necessarily for the merit of their content. Is that right? Well, who is to say? Not I!

As far as quirky is concerned, I am a fan. I like quirky because I can relate. My life isn't anything worthy of writing home about, but it has just enough of those quirky moments that makes it worth living. (I hope that makes sense.)

But I cannot agree on comparing "Juno" to films like "Napoleon Dynamite" or "Rushmore." "ND" was a flash in the pan flick that had the right marketing at the right time. And "Rushmore" stands as its own achievement (how many clubs did you all belong to?). And don't mess with "Superbad." That's another one of those flicks that seems more relatable than I want to acknowledge. I actually had a female friend apologize for what myself and other guys went through at that age. But I digress...

Finally, if you see a boom tell the theater management. How hard is that? You'll get an apology and likely some free popcorn. "Juno" may not be perfect, but my goodness...do the detractors need to complain about every psuedo-fault? I'm done for the night. I promise!

Chris-Brad said...

For clarification, when I wrote "...Juno gets the nod..." I meant a nod as in a nomination. Not a nod as in my pick as the winner. Sorry for any confusion.

I beg your forgiveness.

Alexandyr Kent said...

It seems we agree on Cody. That's scary. It's like Oscatorial Gladiators calling a truce before the bell rings.

This boom mike stuff has me very curious. I'll have to ask some local production folks about the Carpetbagger controversy. Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Evan said...

I didn't like "Juno". I found the writing a bit pretentious. I'm pretty fresh out of my teenage years. I was in high school when ND came out and had to sit through a painful year of people gradually discovering and quoting it. I've known plenty of quirky teens, but I've never seen anyone go so far as Juno. The character is so overdone that I thought it was almost mocking this generation of kids. And I didn't take offense to that, it just kept me from staying in the movie (not as in leaving the theater), and put the movie more on par with something like Scary Movie (i.e. "Quirky Teen"). The character was just way overdone. She was presented as a fairly smart girl, but she had no decency at all. I know teenagers aren't supposed to have decency but most the ones I know/knew have/had more than her. I don't know anyone who would mock a person's name who they just met. Especially if that person is the lawyer that is sealing the deal on her giving away of a baby she doesn't want. There were tons of moments like that where I felt like she was putting on a show for a group of her peers when there weren't any peers around to impress. She was in fact actually often dealing with very serious matters. But it's funny to me to see the adult reaction. A lot of adults love it and I think that's funny because I guess it reminds them of their "crazy kids" or something, and they like it because it's realistic, but it's not actually very genuine or introspective.

I just had a big problem sympathizing with Juno. She was so cocky and confident and had such a ridiculously easy pregnancy (those 9 months flew by without a problem), that I didn't really see any sincere conflict in the film. Her romantic relationship was negligible, nobody really minded that she was pregnant, and the pregnancy was super easy. The biggest conflict was actually whether or not the couple who wants to adopt her baby is going to stay together or not. That's just silly.

I thought the movie as a whole seemed like a huge cliche of independent film. For one it's like "oh, fox searchlight has a new quirky independent comedy" and then it just plays on everything we've already seen. I laughed at the music. Generic indie music for a generic indie film. A lot of people
fail to realize that it's a genre film because most people aren't that well versed in indie film (or specifically the genre of quirky indie comedies), but if you go to Sundance or something you'll see a handful of Juno's every year (some of them a lot better and some of them a lot worse). I felt like Juno was trying real hard to be the next ND, and while I don't really like ND, at least it was fresh and original when it came out. Nominating Juno for best picture to me is more absurd than nominating ND. It makes me wonder how many movies actually qualify. Although this problem isn't unique to this year.

And I consider myself someone who loves "quirky". At least 2004 quirky. "Quirky" is now something people strive for when it should just be a side effect of certain characters in certain situations. "I Heart Huckabees" is one of my all time favorite films and it's extremely quirky, but it works in its context. And there's "Lost in Translation" quirky with a lot of depth and heart. Anything by Michel Gondry has a lot of quirk and it's mostly done well. I'm a huge Wes Anderson fan too. I'm bummed that "The Darjeeling Limited" didn't get any noms especially in comparison to something like "Juno". Juno is just like the Hollywoodized indie for the mass market. TDL is genuine indie. It's naturally quirky, and it has a story worth telling. The writing is 100 times better, but I guess since Wes Anderson has done it before it doesn't matter...well...Jason Reitman's done it before with "Thank You For Smoking" so I don't know. Of course I'm a biased Wes Anderson fan.

The end.

chrisbrad said...

First, yes...this is still the same old Chris-Brad. I have been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of LiveJournal. So from now on I'll try to remember to use the "new" name.

As far as what Evan wrote I will agree on a lot of the aspects. In general terms "Juno" was a cliche. It was, in its own little way, just another genre flick. But it also had a lot going for it. Enough, in my opinion, to overcome its faults. Was it genuine? Enough. Was it serious? Enough. But was it over the top? Sure. Was it trying hard? A little, but I think that is partly to blame on the director, not the writing or acting.

"Juno" seems to be this year's "Crash." What I mean is that there is a love it or hate it mentality. There is no in between. Well, that isn't really true. I don't necessarily love "Juno." I liked it. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't perfect. But no flick is. Like I said in my original post, part of the reason "Juno" got a nod was because voters wanted it (or rather Diablo Cody) to get some amazing recognition. I cannot state that enough. "Juno" was not nominated because it was the best film, it was nominated for intangibles.

And on another note - I am very happy I was not in high school for "ND." That would have been brutal!

And yet another note - "Thank You For Smoking" and "I Heart Huckabees" are now in my DVD player. Thank you, Evan, for making me want to watch them again! Thank goodness "The Darjeeling Limited" isn't on DVD just yet.

Alexandyr Kent said...

Evan's point about genuineness brings up an interesting discussion about an oft-pondered question: is it a writer's duty to represent reality as accurately as possible, or enhance it? To twist into new shapes, new meanings?

Fiction writers have been grappling with similar questions for centuries, yet screenwriters have only been at it for about a hundred years or so. Evan's comments make me realize how young a medium cinema is. It's still asking a lot of questions about itself, and that's very evident in indie comedies that work to surprise audiences with quirk. That quirk, I think, is just an attempt to make us look anew.

... Following Evan's argument, Cody is not successful because she fails to inspire his suspension of disbelief. And I completely understand that point. I'll be curious to watch "Juno" a few years down the road and see if it holds.

And chris-brad is again right about "Juno" dividing audiences. It's this season's conversation piece, and that's a great thing. There's nothing better to me than a movie that inspires such fierce debates about what merits worth in the public eye.