Anyone looking to hop on the anti-JUNO bandwagon, the line starts here.
OK, here’s my deal with JUNO: I didn’t hate the movie. I was hating it for a bit, but then it got a little better and by the time it was done I didn’t feel like I wanted to kill anyone involved in its making, but I sure as hell don’t get the hype. I don’t understand just what the hell people are seeing in this one. Roger Ebert named it the best picture of 2007. Huh? It’s getting raves all around and a huge Rotten Tomatoes score. And to make matters worse, it’s probably going to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. What’s up with that?
Fellow haters (or just plain dislikers) join in with me: It ain’t that good, people!
JUNO is a movie with a serious case of The Cutes. Say what you will about the likes of Judd Apatow, his movies usually avoid The Cutes while JUNO swims in a ocean of them. This isn’t an organically quirky movie, like a Wes Anderson or Coen Brothers picture; it’s quirky by design. The lead character in it would hate this movie because she would recognize it for what it truly is: A poseur, plain and simple.
Oh, and let’s discuss this lead character, OK? I understand that she’s nothing more than a 16 year-old girl, but I can’t remember the last movie I saw where the lead character was this obnoxious and unlikable. I’m sure you JUNO fans will just say that I don’t understand teenage girls (and the debate on whether or not that’s accurate is something for another time) but I know when I actively dislike spending time in the company of one and I sure did here. It wasn’t a matter of disliking Ellen Page, who I think is an excellent actress and is probably a little too on-the-mark here, but it's a matter of this character as written. She doesn’t sound like a real person, she sounds like the product of a screenplay, and is so overly cute and quirky that she gives those terms a bad name. I have this thing about “wish writing”, when characters talk in the manner that the writer thinks is cool and clever (which I personally find very amateurish) is always a strike against with me. Juno the character isn’t cool at all, just someone’s idea of what a cool person should be, and cool is something that can never be processed but must be natural. JUNO is very much processed cool.
And I want to make it clear that this isn’t just the fault of the film’s script, because director Jason Reitman deserves a lot of the blame, too. I very much enjoyed his debut feature, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, a smart film with a lot of satirical bite, but I have no idea what the hell possessed him to make JUNO so damn lame. Actually, I know what is was - it was the wearing out of his Criterion Collection DVD for RUSHMORE, that’s what, as this is a film that desperately wants nothing more than to be it. From the soundtrack (dear god, it makes me hate music I usually like!) to the camera moves and the editing, Jason Reitman has a serious case of the Wes Anderson flu and I would appreciate it if he were quarantined for a while so that others don’t catch it. I suspect that Reitman’s heart is really in picture like SMOKING, a movie that wasn’t afraid to be unpopular, as opposed to a JUNO, which wants desperately to be loved. The unfortunate thing is that people are falling for it and I am, quite frankly, dumbfounded. The reviews, the awards talk, where does all this come from? I saw the film Friday night in a packed suburban N.J. multiplex that was packed with teenagers and they’re going to turn this into a bigger hit than anyone’s anticipating. But the thing that’s really getting to me is how this film will get several totally undeserving Oscar nominations at the end of the month. This has been such a good year for movies, to have a lame picture like this one be in the running is a little depressing. It’s not the state of Pakistan depressing, but it ain’t fun, either. I also saw MARGOT AT THE WEDDING over the weekend, and while the two films aren’t exactly 100% alike, it gets more laughs and sympathy for its extremely flawed (but fascinating) characters than JUNO does because they act like real people and it’s all the more memorable for it, too. It’s the kind of picture I expected Reitman to keep on making after SMOKING, not this.
So having said all this, I would like to point out JUNO’s one saving grace: Jennifer Garner. Funny thing was, I was talking to a friend of mine about her thus-far lackluster film career and how she’ll probably be back on TV in a few short years, and here she almost single handedly save JUNO from the worst of the year list. Garner, as the working woman who wants to adopt Juno’s baby, is the one thing in this film that feels genuine. I’ve known one or two women like Garner’s character and she nails the character surprisingly well and, best of all (and I credit the filmmakers with this, too) she’s not made out to be a bitch or anything like that. It’s like, OK, she’s not perfect, she has some flaws, but what she wants is genuine and it comes completely from the heart. Thank god for her, because Garner gives JUNO some genuine heart and a much-needed element of surprise. This was a picture I had hoped to like going in, but I spotted the warning signs early on and if it wasn’t for Garner I probably would be able to make it through. I strongly suspect that I’m not alone on this one, so if you’re not a member of the Juno MacGuff fan club, speak now. Please!