Friday, December 28, 2007

No Teenage Love Lost Here


The entire time I watched Juno (Ellen Page) make reference after reference to Soupy Sales, The Stooges, Dario Argento, The Thundercats or some other icon that's just obscure enough to be cool but not too obscure as to not be cool, I thought that there is no sixteen year old that exists with a brain large enough to hold all these pop culture references. So then I thought "okay, I'm witnessing a hyper-reality where a teen girl talks fast and always has snappy comebacks." And I was okay with that. It's not new territory, of course. John Hughes made it cool to be a fast-talking teen be it Mathew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, Judd Nelson as John Bender or Molly Ringwald as Samantha Baker. He made it cool because teens had been largely dismissed as non-thinkers, unable to carry on a thoughtful conversation or have any self-reflection. Kevin Williams took the baton from there trying to fill Hughes' big shoes with the Scream movies and Dawson's Creek. His teens teetered on being too-clever-for-their-own-good. When they weren't exchanging snappy retort, they were so wound up in self-reflection to really enjoy the fact that they were teens.

And now, as a teen experiment gone awry, there's Juno MacGuff as created by writer Diablo Cody and brought to life by director Jason Reitman. Juno is funny and smart and pretty, but she's not one for any serious emotion. Juno is that person that whenever there's any kind of real "moment" about to happen, she'll kill it with cleverness. God help the person who kisses Juno goodnight at the door. She'll point out the right time when you should kiss her, make some reference to a really good kiss from some movie that only a handful of people know and then ask whether the evening was really good enough to warrant a goodnight kiss and then if the kiss should involve a tongue or not. By the time she actually got around to kissing, the guy would no doubt be halfway down the street.

Juno was not without its enjoyment however. There are some very funny moments, most of them I had already seen from the trailer. The quick scene between Juno and Rollo (Rainn Wilson) the store clerk was very funny and being an advertising guy, I loved the scene where Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) is writing a jingle for a new 'brunch' type cereal. And the reference to giving away Chinese babies like they were ipods was definitely not lost on this guy. But most of the time, I felt this movie was trying a bit too hard to be a bit too quirky. From the Wes Anderson-like shots of Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) placing deodorant between his legs and putting on his tube socks to the soundtrack that tries to be unique and unobtrusive in its selections, but still ends up just getting in the way. And what kind of world exists where the popular cheerleader and the bizarre nerdy girl are best friends?

But unlike Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Breakfast Club, Juno has no soft center. When you get past the skeptical crust of its characters, you'll just find more crust. In an effort to take some steps forward on behalf of teens everywhere, Juno has actually taken several steps back by portraying its main character as a young woman unable or just unwilling to show true emotion. If Juno would have been a teen romp the likes of Superbad, I would have been fine with it. But it wasn't. It was a movie that wanted to have a heart, but was too damn scared to show it.

23 comments:

brian said...

Good to have you back, Pipe.

Your review surprises me a bit, because this movie is getting glowing marks. Eberts says it's the best of 2007.

Thanks to P to the Pipe to be the one to set the record straight.

Piper said...

I'm only back temporarily. This has been no break for me, my friend. But I was able to sneak out with the wife yesterday and catch this. I guess I'm hard on it because I know it's getting so much praise and I'm still burning from The Little Miss Sunshine possible Oscar spoiler hangover from last year.

This movie was afraid to be something more and you felt it the entire time. The message of the movie is to be yourself, but I didn't feel like this movie was itself. It was trying to be something else and trying really hard.

Moviezzz said...
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Sheamus the... said...

Yeah...a negative review was due. Somehow I knew it was going to be experienced in the Pipeline. Well written and a valid opinion. Never been one to listen to Ebert but I will admit...I loved it.

brian said...

Sheamus-

I always liked Ebert more than Siskel.

Ebert always goes to the movies hoping you will see something he will love.

Siskel went hoping it would not be to his standards.
That was until Siskel got really sick, and then he voted for "Babe" as movie of the year.

Ray said...

Good review. You basically hit on the head what I had feared from the very first trailer: Everyone in the movie talks like Chandler from "Friends."

I hate Chandler.

You mention Sixteen Candles and Ferris Bueller, but in my mind those films had fairly realistic teenagers - well, not Ferris, but that movie is more like a fantasy film than documentary. Molly Ringwald delivers dialogue well, but the dialogue she was given was mostly indicative of the speech patterns of eighties teens.

brian said...

Ferris Beuller blows. Why won't anybody say it? That scene at the end with the parade is one of the all time worst I've ever seen.

Josh said...

Kevin Smith had nothing to do with the Scream movies. They were written by Kevin Williams tho. His heyday was in the mid-90's when he wrote those, the first I Know What You Did Last Summer and yes, Dawson's Creek.

Megan said...

So glad to find someone else not on the Diablo bandwagon. Such a relief!!!

Piper said...

Ray,

You're right about Breakfast Club. Those teenagers felt real because they acted real in the situations they were put in. Juno did not.

Josh,

My bad. I had the right guy but the wrong name. I'm changing it now. Thanks for the heads up. I only made an ass out of myself for a few days.

Brian,

Why ya gotta hate on Ferris. I really shouldn't like the ending but for some reason I do.

brian said...

The "fifth wall" is there for a reason.

Adam Ross said...

I had very similar feelings about Juno, and to me it felt like the worst parts of "Gilmore Girls." I like the show, but when I'm supposed to swallow the fact that a high school girl drops references to "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" like it was on MTV the night before, it loses me.

Moviezzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

OH MY GOD MICHEAL CERA IS THE HOTTEST GUY I NO AND I LOVED THIS MOVIE I THINK IT WAS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!!!
I LOVE YOU PAULIE BLEEKER AND JUNO
:)

bird flu said...

'Ie only seen previews of this one and essentially, it stinks of effort. I will probably still rent this- I don't go to movies, I have a 16 month old-because there aren't a lot of worthy movies out there at the moment but the expectation is rock bottom. I can usually count on Pat's opinion about movies, but there is always the Lebowski paradox. Juno does not look like it will fall into the Lebowski Paradox though.

jake said...

For some reason, it seemed like all the 'trying too hard' came from Juno herself. The other characters came across more believable to me. Juno's strained references made me cringe whereas Paulie was funny and heartfelt.

Piper said...

Dat you Jake Edinger?

jake e said...

yep. i spent most of the holidays catching up on movies (still need to see old country, though) so i'd be able to contribute some.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree the movie tried a little too hard to be quirky and different, I disagree with your remark about Juno being friends with the cheerleader.

I found it refreshing that the movie didn't take on the "Mean Girl" stereotypes. Where I went to high school, the friendships went across athlete/honor student/race barriers. I was the cheerleader with several nerdy friends. To me, Juno's take on high school is more accurate than traditional teen movies.

Piper said...

Anon,

Glad I'm wrong. My school was a little more traditional when it came to that stuff, but that was some time ago. I'm glad times have changed and the lines have blurred.

Jeremy Fuksa: Creative Generalist said...

I really only had a problem with the first 15 minutes or so. After that I thought it tried a little less hard to be quirky.

Good, honest quirk is hard to pull off and obsessively watching Wes Anderson and Jared Hess movies to get it by osmosis doesn't work. I should know. I tried it once for a handful of shorts that I made.

I liked the fact that the movie wasn't totally predictable. The only bit of the movie I could see coming from a mile away was the story arc with Jason Bateman.

As a side note, not a good film to see with a pregnant woman due to give birth any day. Kind of an emotional rollercoaster when you mix the plot with hormones.

Overall, I liked it.

matthew said...

I'll probably try to get out to see Juno this week - but I've gotta tell you, - the amount of wit and clever tongue laid down by Juno in the trailer alone has been enough to make me skeptical. But, I'll reserve judgment until after I've seen it.

brian said...

Well, I just saw it. After reading Piper's review I avoided it. But since Oscars are coming, I felt it was my duty.

And my review is ... it's charming.
The dialogue, the movie, the story.

I did find the soft center. Juno broke down and cried once and she revealed her true feelings in the third reel.

So I gotta say this one is very good. Maybe she was a little "overly clever." But I found that to be her character and I believe someone like this could actually exist.

At times, some of the characters around her talked like Juno, and that's a slip, but not enough to derail a fun trip to the movies.