By Ezra Stead
Juno, USA, 2007
Directed by Jason Reitman
Juno is, in my decidedly non-humble and belligerent opinion, not only the most overrated film of the last decade, but also one of the worst. Before we go any further, let me assuage any accusations you might be formulating that I’m just trying to espouse an unpopular opinion for the sake of doing so, or that I didn’t want to like the movie: the second part is true. But I also went into Little Miss Sunshine (2006) expecting and wanting to hate it, and it won me over. I didn’t think it deserved to be regarded as one of the best films of that year, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Let it also be known that I like all of Wes Anderson’s films (to varying degrees), The Squid and the Whale (2005) and Napoleon Dynamite (2004), so please don’t think I just hate quirky indie movies. That said, let me expound upon why this is the most insufferably cutesy and irritating film I’ve seen since Zach Braff’s Garden State in 2004 (and I think this one just might be worse).
The first thirty minutes or so of Juno are almost unbearable, as Ellen Page (an excellent actress who, like the rest of the cast, is completely wasted on this tripe) struggles to bring life to a character whose every line sounds like it was written by an angry, dumb teenager who thinks the audience callbacks at The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) are the height of wit. Worse than that, some of those lines are uttered into a hamburger phone that the character admits is awkward to use, but it’s all part of the ironic facade she uses to mask her true vulnerable, compassionate humanity. Sarcasm doesn’t translate well in writing, so I should probably point out here that the film spends another hour unmasking this facet of the character, all the while indulging in the kind of dialogue that would get you a “D” at best in any self-respecting screenwriting program.
As if the dialogue wasn’t enough to keep anyone who has never sported an ironic mustache or a pair of non-prescription granny glasses from vomiting into their popcorn, the film is also constantly peppered with the most awful soundtrack since Daredevil (2003). Kimya Dawson fans, hear me out: it’s not so much that I think the music is crap (I do – why should I like her music when she sounds bored with it herself?); the point is that the music is used to cover the holes in a screenplay that still ends up looking like swiss cheese made from rat-milk. Writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (the comparably excellent Thank You For Smoking and the even better Up in the Air) seem to have decided that there’s no need to create characters that actually live and breathe – or at least speak in such a way as to distinguish one dry, acerbic, impossibly overwritten character from another – when you can just insert a lame song with cute lyrics that will convey the mood instantly.
Oh, and just to make sure the characters appear to be truly unique and extraordinary, Cody has armed each of them with a few different, insufferable quirks: Juno has an affinity for blue Slushees and Sunny Delight (a product placement that begins in the first shot of the film), and supposedly listening to lots of punk rock (though very little of this is ever actually heard onscreen). Wow, what an unusual teenager! Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) loves orange Tic-Tacs (more product placement) and rubs deodorant on his thighs; Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) is a commercial songwriter in his late thirties who struggles with the whole maturity / settling down / having lots of money that didn’t come from his rock-star dreams thing, and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), his wife, doesn’t seem to have any real character traits other than wanting a baby to make her life complete. How progressive.
Every character in this film speaks with the same irritating hipster irony, every plot point feels like a hot needle in my eye. The scene in which Juno’s stepmother (Allison Janney) tells off the nurse administering Juno’s ultrasound is particularly dreadful, but it’s far from my only gripe. There’s also the inevitable moment when Juno finally breaks down and shows the humanity underneath her sarcastic veneer, as if that makes her suddenly likable after 80 minutes of being one of the most detestable screen characters ever created, not to mention the fact that Rainn Wilson’s cameo as the drugstore clerk exists solely for the purpose of delivering that terrible Etch-A-Sketch line from the trailer (“This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home-skillet”).
Perhaps the most offensive sequence in the whole film (and there are more than a few – I’m trying to wrap this up) is the slapdash glossing over of the abortion option, the first possibility that Juno considers. She seems pretty sure of herself in this choice until she actually gets to the abortion clinic and finds that it’s a nasty, “grody” place where people less attractive than herself scratch themselves and pick at their nails – it’s just too much for Juno to take! Added to that is the information that her baby might already have fingernails (provided by a character who, like Wilson’s awful drugstore clerk cameo, serves no purpose beyond this contrived, “pivotal” scene), and scraping the little monster out is suddenly no longer an option. Seriously, fingernails is what changes her mind.
Don’t get me wrong: I am personally all for adoption, so it is not the message of the film, such as it is, that I object to. What I am opposed to is bad, lazy screenwriting that manages to generate hype based on “edgy” topics like teen pregnancy, and then sells both the art and the issue short by pandering to audiences who want catch phrases and cheap controversy. I strongly believe that this is one of the worst screenplays ever produced, though I probably wouldn’t rate it so high on the hate list if it weren’t so incredibly overrated.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.