Juno (2007)

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Juno
Dir. Jason ReitmanPremiered at Telluride September 1, 2007

  • October 20-22, 2007: I go to see The Darjeeling Limited twice. Each time, the trailer for Juno plays beforehand. It feels very derivative, but I don’t know of what specifically. Very of its time.

  • December 7, 2007: My english teacher Mr. Stremel comes to class after seeing Juno with his wife and vents his spleen over how cloying and precious it was, in contrast to the far more realisitc Superbad. In spite of Juno’s critical acclaim, his judgment is enough to put me off seeing it with my mom.

  • July 18, 2008: My girlfriend tries to get me to watch Juno. I can’t get past the first ten minutes, which look and sound like Napoleon Dynamite had a stroke. I convince her to give Superbad a try, because even though I’m starting college, my english teacher’s rant will stay with me forever.

Needless to say, I didn’t go into this movie with high expectations. The first ten minutes are, as previously mentioned, awful, and just about every sketch comedy group you can think of (which had multiplied online during the 2007-08 WGA strike, when regular television was suspended and Juno coincidentally premiered) had made fun of its then-fashionable kitsch aesthetic and especially screenwriter Diablo Cody’s bizarre cinematic patois: a mix of Valley Girl, 1930s hey-Joe-whaddya-know rhyming slang, Gilmore Girls-esque rapid fire namedropping, and twisty David Milch iambic pentameter.

But then I watched more than ten minutes, and all of that– all of it– gradually tapered off. Don’t be mistaken, the movie has issues, but I ended up not hating it like I expected.

The titular Juno (Ellen Page) is a precocious 16-year-old proto-hipstrix who discovers she’s pregnant after deflowering her close friend and maybe-boyfriend Pauly Bleeker (Michael Cera). Dissuaded from having an abortion because of the general ambience of the clinic (?), she decides to give the baby up for adoption to thirtysomething couple Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Juno bonds with Mark due to their mutual interest in music and film, leading Mark to revisit his own youth and question whether he’s ready to become a father.

Juno was notably the debut screenplay of Diablo Cody, whose past as a stripper made her kind of a paternalistic darling of Hollywood. Although her subsequent work become progressively better, the script for Juno feels much like a rough draft (see the first few pages of too-cool-for-school jargon), with certain issues and subplots feeling underdeveloped, particularly the ambivalent relationship between Juno and Bleeker. It’s kinda surprising that this won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps, much like a more recent movie everyone liked but me, people were simply shocked by its originality alone.

At the same time, I don’t think director Jason Reitman totally got what Cody was going for. Juno is far more erudite and pop culture-literate than any teenager with an actual social life– I never knew any 16-year-old to fawn over Dario Argento. So why does a movie about someone who loves punk and hates wimpy music have a soundtrack full of tweer-than-twee Kimya Dawson songs?

Altogether, Juno is a confused and not fully fleshed-out film that, while not inherently bad– there’s nothing offensive or eye-rolling here– is littered with small flakes of obnoxiousness. It’s okay. It’s no classic. I’d rank it about even with another 2007 film that dealt with pregnancy and has aged poorly– Knocked Up.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The soundtrack, the animated opening, the whole hand-drawn aesthetic in general.

Additional Notes

  • Wow, the Kinks were really popular for movie soundtracks in 2007: Hot Fuzz, The Darjeeling Limited, and this all featured multiple songs by them.

  • I continue to enjoy that all pregnancies in fiction coincide perfectly with the school year/network television season.

  • Jason Bateman’s character makes his living writing commercial jingles, a job that basically no longer exists but enjoys unaccountable staying power in film and television.

  • This movie did not have enough of J.K. Simmons as Juno’s father. I’m a sucker for goofy but goodhearted dads. My favorite character from Freaks and Geeks is Harry.

How Did It Do?
Juno came out strong, earning a 94% Fresh Rating on RottenTomatoes. Grossing $231.4 million against a $7.5 million budget, it just barely outperformed its spiritual counterpart Knocked Up. The significance of this cannot be underestimated; it premiered at Telluride, but let’s be real, this movie is exactly what you think of when I say “Sundance,” and even Sundance movies that win Oscars aren’t big moneymakers. Juno was a fucking blockbuster.

Naturally, this led to some hilarious attempts at moral panic.

First, Juno became at least the third major motion picture that year to get shoehorned into the American debate over abortion. I don’t usually bring up iMDB reviews here, but even the press at the time highlighted a rash of critics that compared Juno unfavorably to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, which is exactly as stupid as when John Simon compared Return of the Jedi unfavorably to Tender Mercies: technically correct, but nevertheless idiotic.

Then, rumors spread like wildfire that Juno’s popularity had sent teen pregnancy rates skyrocketing due to the glamorization here. I can’t help but suggest that perhaps teenage girls are not the biggest audience for this movie; or that the type of girls who would really like this movie aren’t at a high risk for pregnancy; or that mentally competent teenagers would willfully impregnate themselves; or that they would do it as a fashion statement; or that a movie about a teenage girl who contemplates abortion, gives up a baby she can’t take care of, and ruins a marriage doesn’t glorify jack shit, but that’s just me. This attitude was more about the ongoing debate over sex education in America than it was about any movie, and statistics demonstrate that teen pregnancy would continue its consistent decline since the advent of birth control, but what’re you gonna do?

Keep in mind, I don’t like this movie, and everything I saw or heard about it at the time made me hate it, but even as a pissy teenager, I never felt the need to invent a case against it, especially when that case existed to make me look stupid for being young.

Sorry, I got off track. Where were we? Right, awards!

I don’t know why, but Juno just clicked with the Academy in a way that simply suggests “right time, right place.” It had an aesthetic that was just becoming mainstream, it didn’t cover a whole lot of new ground, but the cast was fantastic, Ellen Page was immediately singled out as a rising star, so of course she got nominated for Best Lead Actress. Juno was also nominated for Best Picture, best Director, and won Best Original Screenplay. Diablo Cody is a great screenwriter, but she wasn’t a great screenwriter yet. You can sense her writing improving just over the course of the movie, and I’m glad she got her opportunity, but I can’t help but suspect that the Academy was moved to award out of condescension over the fact that Cody had once worked as a stripper, which isn’t unusual but which she had previously written about, and which was heavily publicized in the lead-up to the awards.

Nonetheless, Cody improved; I hesitate to suggest a more clear trajectory than hers. Director Jason Reitman is another story. He’s teamed up with Cody since, and it’s hard to reach new heights when your directorial debut is Thank You for Smoking, but it’s hard to get a sense of him as a filmmaker. He’s the Donna Lewis of directors: his movies aren’t like anyone else’s, but they’re also kinda like everyone else’s. Juno is very much in that vein.

Next Time: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

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