Monday, March 3, 2008

The Sunny, Delightful Adventures of Fertile Myrtle

Juno opens with the eponymous heroine staring at a recliner with a curiously blank expression on her face, as her disembodied voice informs us that it started with a chair. I have seen the film twice now, and I am not sure what it is that started with a chair. It’s a fallacy – a non-sequitur at the beginning of the film. The line serves no purpose other than to sound cool and funky – like most of the film’s dialogue. It sounds less like the work of a confident storyteller than a wannabe filmmaker, frantically dropping enigmatic lines here and there in the vain hope that supererogatory equivocation might be mistaken for quirkiness and whimsy. That this was Cody’s first script makes that hypothesis all the more plausible. The ultra-recherche, nails-on-a-chalkboard dialogue permeates the film yet, after the first few minutes, I grew to tolerate and then, honest to blog, love it. Like many of its characters, it’s a terribly insecure film – but it’s so full of joy that one can’t help but grin at all the shenanigans.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Juno, who observed of the film, “it’s great, if you like your teenagers to speak like jaded 35-year-olds.” That’s true, but only on the surface. Juno McGuff is an exceptionally happy teen – happier, maybe, than she should be considering her condition. As the film begins, she is already pregnant, with help from Paulie Bleeker(Michael Cera), her long-time boyfriend-cum-best friend (no pun intended). After a heavy-handed scene where she decides against abortion, Juno confronts her parents (the wonderfully sour JK Simmons and the always-brilliant Allison Janney) with the news, and expresses her intention to give the baby up for adoption. In the Pennysaver, she spots a trendy young couple Vanessa and Mark (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner – though not necessarily in that order), who, she believes, would be the perfect parents for the baby. The rest of the film centres on the way Juno deals with her pregnancy (well), her parents (OK), Bleeker (not so well), Vanessa (badly) and Mark (fucking hell).

Juno is a coming-of-age tale not unlike the overrated Knocked Up, in that the subtext is brought to fore by substance, namely teen pregnancy. With impeccable work from an amazing cast (Arrested Development fans should watch the way Bateman delivers his monosyllabic line once he finds out Juno is not named after the town in Alaska – and then weep for hours on the fate of their beloved show), and assured direction from Jason “Spitting image of Edgar Wright” Bateman, it deals with the issue surprisingly well, and most have ignored this aspect to berate on the dialogue. Which is not an egregious angle to carry on, since the dialogue is overbearing. One has to be in the mood for it – though what that mood might be, I couldn’t tell you. I was also slightly unnerved by the way abortion is portrayed as an inherently bad idea – it’s a rash decision, sure, the film says, but abortion is also evil. The scene where Juno decides not to go ahead with an abortion is well done, but it left a bitter aftertaste. Like the rest of the film’s many shortcomings though, it fizzles against the glorious fun that is Juno. The film, and the character.

Note: Even though most of the faux-folk soundtrack is pretty good (Barry Louis Polisar's All I Want Is You is particularly excellent), there should, nonetheless, be a moratorium on the use of Velvet Underground’s I’m Sticking With You in wacky indie comedies. And while they’re at it, they should just go ahead and destroy all existing copies, analogue and digital, of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah.


Mark said...

Ali, good post. Like you, I was bugged by the preciousness/hipness of Juno's dialog but got swept up in the characters and the nice vibe. I liked the movie in the end.

I don't think I agree with your opening point about the chair, though. Her story did begin with a chair, just as she says. It wasn't the chair in that particular shot on the lawn, but the chair she shared with Bleeker. Right?

I'm happy to have discovered your blog through The Cooler. Nice reviews.


Anonymous said...

No more Jeff Buckley. If they want to use Hallelujiah then it would be so much braver (and funnier) if they went with the Laughing Lenny Cohen version.... :-)