In defense of Juno
It got me thinking why I enjoyed the film as much as I did, because I dont disagree with those criticisms. More than that, I’m usually the first in line to hate on faux-quirk movies that have a hard-on for Wes Anderson. I hated Garden State. And, even though I thought it was hilarious, I found Napoloen Dynamite to be ultimately cold and uneccesarily mean towards its characters.
So why Juno? The character herself is at times grating, but, in the end, I think that’s the point — and it’s a point the film comes to quite skillfully. As my girlfriend pointed out, Juno’s arc moves from pretentious to sincere the same way Jason Bateman’s character moves the opposite: from super-cool to super-immature.
Anyone who likes this movie for the quirk is missing the point. As Jennifer Garner so succinctly states late in the film (and by this point, the film is on her side), “your T-shirt is stupid.” (Take that, ironic hipsters.) It’s a big line, delivered excellently, and it marks an important shift in tone for the film.
I think the best example of this progression and how it relates to Juno’s character development is the film’s soundtrack. The quaintly sung acoustic numbers feature silly, over-simplistic lyrics, and are somewhat emblematic of these quiet, quirky films and their weird, indie soundtracks.
But by the film’s end, the soundtrack becomes a rather sincere exchange between Juno and her new boyfriend. It’s moved from overly-precious to honest, REAL cuteness, and it’s now very much about REAL emotions, something Garden State and Napoleon Dynamite failed to achieve.
You could also look at wardrobe, Michael Cera’s tracksuit specifically. While at the beginning of the film the tight-fit high-riding gym shorts are Wes Anderson-ish flourishes of “uniform”, a way to make a character look ridiculous and be memorable (see: Pedro’s moustache; Natalie Portman’s helmet in Garden State), by the end of the film it’s simply a tracksuit. Michael Cera actually wins a race, just as Juno and him actually fall in love, and that’s pretty much it. It’s story now, not visual jokiness. In contrast, as stated, Bateman’s vintage rock t-shirts are now regarded as actually stupid.
Another great turning point is the sudden validation of Jennifer Garner’s character somewhere near the start of the third act. While in the beginning she’s a joke, the film’s horrible “normal” person, she is, by the end, the film’s heart. Her sincerity of feeling is what Juno strives for and is inspired by, and the grace with which this switch is accomplished is a testament to both Garner as an actress, and the film as a cohesive, successful project.
Feel free to debate, by leaving a comment, or by calling me on my hamburger phone.