Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Juno: The Good, The Ehh, The Twee

(Finally, my too-long review of Juno, which I wrote off and on for a week or so, mulling things over. Though this contains no outright spoilers, there is extensive discussion of stuff, elaborations on little things that have been revealed in any other movie review out there--like the NYT's. Deal.)

I was walking home demoralized after faxing in a rental application last week when I found myself in front of a movie theatre Downtown, just in time for Juno. I went inside and paid my $7.50 and sat somewhere in the middle, next to some couple who wore very '90s leather jackets. I distrust coordinated dressing. Like the girl looked like she was an extra in Buffy in her leather trench and the guy looked like he could have walked onto My So Called Life in his distressed leather jacket. It was too accidentally-on-purpose, man. I predict that they will break up. I should have looked at their shoes to make sure. Matching "I washed these with rocks to make them look worn" Converses = certain breakup.

I do not understand why people are seeing it with other people anyway. Like, couples. It is my idea of the worst date movie ever. Well, this and any "knocked up" movie, although this one contains particular emotional complexities that would make me feel extremely discomfited if I were watching it with a partner. I cannot imagine how people would have sex after watching a movie about accidental pregnancy or not Think About Things after watching a relationship unravel for all too-common reasons. But to each their own. My idea of a good date movie involves lots of gun violence and space ships. No delicate epiphanies of the bourgeoisie, which I prefer to have in the private shame of my own home, alone, listening to Sad Bastard Music.

I mostly liked this movie. I even cried quite a bit, although that may have had much to do with me being a big bag o' freaky last week due to anxiety about moving. But who knows, it could also have something to do with being the curious age of 27, only 10 years older than Juno but also only 10 years away from age of the adoptive mother who desperately wants Juno's baby. In other words, at a point in my life where it is conceivable and even reasonable by today's social mores and statistics to settle down and have a kid without people asking if I'm from a farming town. But I'm at a point where I can remember very clearly the terror and anxiety that a too-young-for-this-shit Juno went through sucking down Sunny D for three pregnancy tests (heck, I wouldn't like to be pregnant now), but only another ten years away an age where I might be terrified and anxious that I might never have a baby. No pressure here.

My vociferous anti-baby/anti-pregnancy/anti-knocked-up-movie stance aside, there was a lot to identify with in this one, to my surprise. And to my further surprise, I really liked a lot of it. There was nothing bad about the movie, really, just kind of curious and shrugworthy elements that I couldn't totally believe. I am not one of those "suspend disbelief" types for films or books that do not involve space exploration or apocalyptic war. This was supposed to be real and genuine, right? So that's the explanation for the second category.

The following, a review in Good/Ehh/Twee trichotomies:

The Dialogue

Good: Snappy, clever, funny. Truly delightful. I was cracking up the whole time.

Ehh: Too much of it. How do people not crack up all the time or fail to react at all, as if it is normal that everything everyone says is a witty bon mot? Looking around at my fellow audience, everyone was laughing at "this ain't no Etch-a-Sketch, Fertile Myrtle--that's one doodle can't can't be undid!" or "Are you sure it isn't just a food baby?" or "I am a vessel of life, the only thing in your stomach is Taco Bell". And yet, no one laughs at these things in the movies.

Everytime I say something that I think is objectively funny and clever, I laugh at it myself (because I am that big a dork, and I somes repeat what I said as well for emphasis, and yes the people in my life must love me). Every time someone says something funny I laugh. I laugh loudly if taken by surprise, or long and silently, my entire body shaking as if possessed by the if it is truly hilarious. Occasionally I will giggle, but that is disfavored. Sometimes, when The Dude is on a real roll, I must spend an entire half hour silent and convulsing like some Slapstick Epileptic. But it is definitely laughter, for I do not do silent inner chuckles or wry glances of appreciation. What is up with this jaded town of whatever in this movie, a town that should be named "Too Clever For Laughter."

Twee: Some of the phrases were silly. Like "___ is the boss, the cheese to my macaroni." Puke.

The Characters

Good: Truly empathetic characters, funny as hell, warm, sensitive, lovely. I liked almost all of the characters.

Ehh: Since when is The Perfect Cheerleader BFF with The Burnout Girl? That was a nice and funny relationship to observe, but it didn't seem probable.

Juno's parents were warm and loving and exasperated, but they took the news of her pregnancy with such equanimity that I thought maybe someone snuck a Xanax in with their tea or something. If I had told my parents that I was pregnant, my father, no joke at all, would have taken out some hard piece of furniture and beaten me with it for a couple of hours as my mother wailed loudly that I was ripping out her soul, and if I (not to mention the baby, but the beating might've solved that problem) survived that, I would probably have been kicked out. Perhaps this is just my family's old school way of kicking it back to Vietnam, but I highly doubt that even the most functional families in America would just roll with it with an "OK!" No yelling? No expression of disappointment beyond "I thought you were the type of girl that knew how to say when"? Doubtful.

Twee: You'd think I'd consider at least one of the characters too saccharine and overdrawn, but nope. I found The Jock annoying, but his appearance was too brief to truly provoke my ire, and this may be just latent anti-jockiness on my part. I liked the characterization that Jocks are secretly attracted to Weird Girls, but go for the Cheerleader because it's what expected of them. This is possibly true, although in my Weird Girl experience, I had no Jock suitors, but that may be because I always go for the Marching Band Nerd type.

Oh wait, I actually did hate The Receptionist at the abortion clinic. She was a caricature, and not at all believable.

The Ratio of Sincerity/Sarcasm

Good: The excessive sarcasm and snark that makes the movie so clever and funny are also good for throwing into high relief the actual sincere moments of the movie. Juno prefaces each moment of sincerity with sarcasm, and then quickly covers up that vulnerability with more sarcasm. But for that brief moment, when she's looking with such desperate hope into the eyes of her father or her baby's father for forgiveness and love, well, that's a rather startling admission. There were more than a few such moments of Juno's startling vulnerability, particulary when she witnessed love, or the unravelling of love.

Also good was the surprisingly good acting by Jennifer Garner, playing the desperate yuppie mother. She was at her best not when playing the neurotically cheerful Stepford, but the sad and broken hearted woman who wanted a baby, and wanted the baby in the stomach to kick for her, to say that s/he was her baby. I could almost see, without being told, the backstory behind this, of all the miscarriages and all the discarded embroyos.

Ehh: I am not sure I really buy the reasoning behind Juno's decision not to abort. She covers it up, once again, with a rather sarcastic remark about what the clinic smelled like and the bizarre receptionist (who wanted to know about "every sore and every score") pushing "grape sucker" condoms on her, but these don't seem like believable reasons to not abort. In this case, the movie failed to deliver on sincerity and should have actually articulated the fear that drove Juno away from the clinic.

Twee: I am a smart ass, but I am also often too sincere and emotionally declaratory for most people. I find nothing twee in sincerity, but eventually sarcasm gets on my nerves, at least too much of it. Say what you mean, man. This is why I don't get reviews of this movie that deride it for being too "saccharine."

The Relationships

Good: The honesty in their depiction.

Mark and Vanessa

This was painful to watch. They were totally stereotypical yuppies, and if not for my contrarian streak, I can very easily imagine myself growing up to be the uptight hydrangea-arranging Vanessa with her Pottery Barned-out McMansion. Perhaps that's why she's with fun-loving Mark, a former wannabe rockstar who's sold out for the sake of security by being a commercial jingle writer and still tries to be relevant by wearing band t-shirts and listening to music that might let him hang out in a not-too-creepy way with people ten years younger. Or in Juno's case, probably close to 15-20 years younger.

No, this marriage does not work. And how it's shown to not work is a fantastic example of this movie's moments of realism. Mark is a cartoon, but finely drawn. He bonds with Juno over music, guitars, and slash flicks. He gets her humor, and she gives him shit for being the sellout they both know him to be, but in a forgiving and cute way. They both feel understood by each other, but the illusion of being friends with a young girl or a married man makes them feel that this is non-threatening. They are wrong, and yes this is geniunely creepy. It is creepy that Mark can't grow up and realize that his not being able to live his dream and abscond from the responsibilities he's chosen to accept aren't "sacrifices," but just how life worked out. It's easy to blame your failures on your choices, and then turn those choices into sacrifices and traps in your head, such that you never actually chose to fail. He blames Vanessa, and Vanessa feels responsible, but that's because she's always responsible. Generally, I think that honesty, communication and compromise go a long way in making most relationships healthy and workable, but if the partners aren't honest to themselves or each other, don't talk, and don't make compromises for one another when something is important to the other (or unimportant enough to the self to be conceded), well--it's doomed.

They loved each other once, and perhaps they were once Juno and Bleeker. But this was a sad relationship to watch. This, of all things in the movie, was a cautionary whale. Don't be this person, don't be this couple.

Juno and Bleeker

Instead, you can be Juno and Bleeker.

Having never watched Michael Cera in a movie, I didn't think his albino gangliness could be made attractive, but his sweetness and sincerity really come through. I would totally date his personality type. I liked that when Juno told him, with fear and hope in her voice that she was pregnant, he said "what should we do?" and then said "whatever you think is best" when she told him she planned to terminate. I can also see what he sees in Juno, a wonderful character in her own right, and I also see how he sees her, and like the way he looks in her eyes.

Of course, Juno, unable to receive such sincerity by being too conditioned to snark and sarcasm, rejects his sincere entreaty to be together by trying to pawn him off on a girl that smells like soup. This is honest: we fear love because having it means we have the possibility of losing it, and having it means being responsible for returning it, and so it's easier to reject it outright before these conditions can be imposed. People are fucked up saboteurs of their own lives. The concept of ultimate freedom is possibly the worst and stupidest shackle ever.

This is patched up later of course. This is a movie, man. I am not spoiling things by telling you this, as you could have probably figured that out yourself. The happy ending seems almost unbelievable. Maybe there is a world where your parents don't beat you to death if you tell them you're pregnant, and maybe there is a world where a relationship can recover from such trauma of having and then giving up a baby. It makes me slightly more sanguine about including the man in my decision to terminate (because at this point in my life I'm not carrying a baby to term), but in general I think it's a special relationship that not only recovers, but grows from such a sad experience. But then again, Juno and Bleeker are pretty special characters, and curiously suited for each other. They learn to be honest to one another, and they seem to accept each other for each others limitations and potentials. Who knows? As the credits roll, perhaps their love lasts through college, growing up, and the vast changes that come with all of that. Maybe I'm the one who's too cynical and sarcastic for this world.

The Parents

The parents were super cool. In the ideal world where parents don't beat up children and partners don't react badly to news that you're pregnant (I am thinking here of the scene in Knocked Up), perhaps Juno and Bleeker grow up to be the parents, happy and always trying to make it work, even when it doesn't.

Ehh: Again, I'm not sure everything ends up happily. I hope it does though.

Twee: Again, I do not believe that things can be too twee when it comes to relationships. I want people to be happy, so long as they are not sickeningly sweet in public.

The Soundtrack

Good: It's pretty awesome. I like The Moldy Peaches, and Kimya Dawson did half of the soundtrack. It's like a ready-made mix tape.

Ehh: It is like a ready-made mix tape. I want to use at least 2, mayyybe 3 songs from it for a mix tape of my own, but that is like cheating, right? Well, I have to use at least "The Well-Respected Man" by The Kinks, if only because it has the word "regatta" in it, as well as "All The Young Dudes" by Mott The Doople. I already like The Kinks, so this is not too bad of cheating. It may be cheating to use "Anyone Else But You," though.

Twee: Half the the soundtrack is wayyy too sweet. This may be the overly saccharine aspect of the movie. Lyrics like "here is the church/here is the steeple/we sure are cute for two ugly people/don't see what anyone can see/in anyone else but you"--you know, it rings true, but perhaps too much so. That's the problem with making mix CDs. It is better to make one with "Jump Around" by House of Pain to undercut the seriousness of the endeavor.

I think I just defeated my own thesis on how sincerity should just be served straight, and not without a side of sarcasm. Crap.


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