Sunday, February 17, 2008

Juno (2007)

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

Juno MacGuff (charmingly played by Ellen Page) is a sixteen year old high school junior who finds herself pregnant weeks after a make-out with her best bud Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) turned into teenage irresponsible late-night lovemaking. She's a peculiar teen, vocal about what she thinks and what she likes, which includes Dario Argento and a few rock bands from years before she was born. Her mouth spews sarcasm with eloquent flair, usually backed up with pop culture references. She operates with graceless theatricality as when she delivers the news of her pregnancy to Bleeker, she musters props which include a sofa chair to sit on and a wooden pipe to chew on down the boy's front lawn to either enunciate the gravity of her situation to the seemingly uncaring soon-to-be father or to mask her own incapability to face her present reality. She is representative of the youth that prides itself of a maturity it barely has a grip of, confusing wisdom with verbal wit and independence with adventurism.

Her first plan of action is to have the baby terminated by calling a clinic to procure a "hasty abortion," but as she's about to enter the clinic, a pro-life classmate of hers details how the baby inside of her has fingernails, which oddly represents for her the totality of humanity. Her change of heart erupts when an orchestra of fingernails tugging on what's left of her conscience envelopes her completely. She foregos abortion and instead finds picture-perfect yet barren couple Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) Loring in the ads section of the Pennysaver to adopt her baby.

The film then whimsically struggles to find relevance in the scenario that our beloved wisecracking soon-to-be mom finds herself in. Yet that scenario is just a bit too genial, a tad too friendly, to the point wherein you wonder where Juno gets all the pent-up teenage angst from, undoubtedly not from her father (J. K. Simmons), who showers her with love despite her shortcomings, or her stepmother (Allison Janney), who likewise treats her with equal parts restraint and dignity, or the stereotyped schoolmates which include the hot dumb cheerleader (Olivia Thirlby) who happens to like her enough to be her best friend despite the extrinsic weirdness and the bullyish jock who she fancies has a secret crush on her. Sure, she gets disgusted stares from the woman behind the desk or the kids from school the moment she balloons into full maternity, but the pregnancy is so underwritten, so slightly developed, that you feel like writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman are dodging important issues. At least in Judd Apatow's uneven Knocked Up (2007), we get a glimpse, although punctuated, of the risks of a decision to go pro-life or in Cristian Mungiu's masterful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007), we are allowed a full glance of the corrupting effects of abortion, as seen through the eyes not of the mother-to-be but through the assisting best friend. Juno, on the other hand, is either brazenly politically ignorant or dangerously romanticizing teenage pregnancy.

However, for all the film's optimism and amiability, there are only a few moments that feel real in this fantasized take on teenage pregnancy. There's that scene in the mall where Juno suddenly bumps into Vanessa. Juno allows Vanessa to talk to the baby, and the latter does so, quite emotionally and without the restraints that usually inhabit her prim and proper posture, until she feels the baby react to her declarations of maternal readiness. There's also Mark's sudden escape from the confines of his marital prison brought about by Juno's supposed free-spiritedness. That discovery of a kindred soul outside their posh suburban neighborhood urges him to soul search, which would lead to a very skewed resolution, probably unfairly designating to him the title of confused villain in a generally kindhearted comedy.

These subplots, moments, and rare instances wherein the heavyhandedly crafted dialogue rings true are sprinkled so sparingly throughout the film that fancies itself hip and cool through the idiosyncratic visual cues (the rotoscoped opening credits, the running joke of a team of marathoners jogging through the neighborhood with their golden short shorts, and the bohemian-inspired fashion of the beloved teen preggie), the bubbly folk songs that open the season-inspired chapters, and the one-dimensional tone of world-wary sophistication that the screenplay generously gives all its characters, from the totem pole of witty retorts Juno to the very annoyed clerk at the local convenience store. It is hardly innovative, blatantly uneven with overwritten dialogues and underwritten themes.

That said, Juno is nothing more than a sweet little movie. Sweet of course is not the greatest of compliments especially to a movie that has been accoladed with several nominations and awards from Hollywood's countless self-congratulating guilds, the biggest of which is the Academy. Sweet in my vocabulary usually means something ultimately harmless, an undaunting confection that makes you feel elated a few minutes after consumption but would eventually fade into obscurity.


Anonymous said...

I disagree with you on this. JUNO is much more than a 'sweet' movie. In fact, one of the things that makes it so unique is the way it understates things...doesn't dwell on the abortion decision, because the movie isn't about not having an abortion. It's about having a baby and JUNO is a fresh look at that in a way that KNOCKED UP wishes it was. KNOCKED UP is the movie that will fade into obscurity, whereas JUNO could easily become a classic. When was the last time a movie really resonated with viewers the way that JUNO has? Yes, it has flaws, some of the dialogue, especially in the opening segment is too over the top precious and hip, but then it settles into itself and is just a great little movie, yes it's sweet, but in a good way, it stays with you when the movie ends. It also deserves to win a few Oscars, with best original screenplay at the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

Michael (Loring) was played by Jason Bateman.

It almost seems like an Arrested Development reunion here...the only thing missing is the airport disembarkment thingy and the Bluth shingle.

Good movie but not necesarily great
...blame the blog crowd for hyping up the online buzz on this baby
...but I'm hoping at least Ellen Page gets her Oscar.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks anonymous and emperor (especially for that correction to that uber-embarrassing error on my part), I guess this is dividing viewers to those who think its great, good, and so-so. Hope I hear something from the I think its awful crowd. See, Oscar buzz does that to movies.

Noel Vera said...

Juno's fun, but let's not get carried away. Haven't seen Mungiu's film, heard good things about it, but if you want a funny and insightful American film on abortion, check out Laura Dern in Citizen Ruth. No rich childless perfectly loving couple to bail her out, either. That smakes of wishful thinking.

Oggs Cruz said...

I'll give Juno that --- fun, amiable, likable, breezy. Defenders would say its not about pregnancy per se, but about the the pregnant girl but that's precisely my problem, it paints an inaccurate image of an epidemic without laying down the cards. It's a fairy tale, a rather dangerous one at that. Unlike let's say Mungiu's film, which isn't really about abortion, but about the chilling, tainting effect it has on humanity, or Apatow's take which is distinctly grounded on the male experience. This one is as fancy-prancy as the titular character.

Noel, as always, I'll seek the title along with the many you've recommended.

zmbnvl said...

It seems a lot of people who saw this movie recently hated it. Talagang nakakasira ang hype sa pagpapanood ng movie. (Nakita ko iyong ad sa diyaryo, todo hype).

Oggs Cruz said...

Absent the hype, it's just an ordinary and as I've said sweet little movie, totally undeserving of the accolades that are so irresponsibly given to it.

JONATS said...

Juno, on the other hand, is either brazenly politically ignorant or dangerously romanticizing teenage pregnancy.

I agree. I think critics liked Juno because the story and characters are set in a postmodern society. abortion/adoption are not taboo options, and kids were treated maturely by the adults. i wish our Filipino society can rationalize social issues in the same way.

just got lost with ur conclusion though, just what do u mean by "sweet"?

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Jonats,

Sweet, meaning its just like candy, not very filling, although it does pretend to be filling. You know those hamburger jellies that's being sold in Candy Corner, Juno's like that. It tempts you with meat and bread, when it's all sugar. It's abrasively apolitical, fanciful, whimsical, just like a feel-good musicale which is why the conclusion of Page and Cera singing isn't very surprising (although you have to admit that's a sweet closure). This film's so amiable, I half expected someone to start bursting into song midway through.

Reinard Santos said...

When I first saw Juno... I thought it was an adaptation of the Korean movie, Jenny,Juno... which also tackles about teenage pregnancy.

Noel Vera said...

One of the best films ever about unwanted pregnancies and hard choices is Ishmael Bernal's Hinugot sa Langit (Snatched from Heaven).

Oggs Cruz said...

I concur, Noel. The woman in Bernal's film didn't have a gracious wealthy couple, understanding parents, and rallying friends to make the months she's ballooning easier. What Maricel had are a domineering, overly religious landlady, a liberal best friend, and an immature boyfriend. Nothing sweet and fancy, but it surely stays with you, whether you like it or not.

jayclops said...

Hi Oggs. I agree with you on the point that Juno borders on romanticizing/understating the urgency and dilemma of teen pregnancy, but only because it may ring true particularly in a society like in our country. I think there is no doubt that teen pregnancy and abortion and/or other options are fairly discussed in America with much restraint like that in Juno. It really isn't about promiscuity or teen waywardness anymore. It's about choices and how you deal and come out of it. Juno's "angst" doesn't really need to be justified by the fact that she's surrounded by lovely people who love her. It's just that kids/teens (I think even me hehehe) are like that, sometimes the existence of angst seem inexplicably unfounded. It maybe an underwritten aspect, but wouldn't Juno's taste for Dario Argento and for bands way beyond her years seem to point out to this seemingly offbeat-hip/cool behavior. And yes, it maybe hyped with the awards and all, especially with the "stripper-turned-writer hype" courtesy Ms. Diablo Cody, but I think Juno stood out because, as you pointed out, its being brazenly apolitical offered a sigh of relief, which coincidentally happen to be sweet, amiable and smart, to critics and maybe even serious moviegoers, from the slew of dark, bleak, "political" films that seem to mirror, directly or indirectly, the state of America, say the Iraq war or the how the country was being run for the past year/s. And it was released during the quarter of the year where studios and film outfits bombard the critics and the public with award baits. I'm glad to realize the flaws though, which I would never have realized, because, yeah, I'm so smothered by its sweetness. Though not great, I still think it's not entirely forgettable. Kudos!

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you very much for that Jay,

I'll confess. I was also swayed by Juno while watching it. It really is a sweet movie. While eating my dinner and on the way home (which is usually when I digest the movie removing whatever kneejerk reaction the movie might get from watching), that's when I realized the faults which I have pointed out --- the uni-tonal screenplay, the fairy-tale scenario, the lack of political stance and the danger all the unabashed optimism may provide. I'm envious you saw Juno that way and was able to write about it with such earnestness. Kudos!

Marin Mandir said...

I personally enjoyed it. It may be thin, unrealistic and too optimistic, but they way it is, it works. There are so many funny one-liners I couldn't but not help to find sympathy with the title heroine.

But, who knows, maybe in I will not find it as amusing in a few years...we will see.