[Five Deadly Everythings]

In defense of Juno

Posted in break it down, movies by Jef on January 3, 2008


A friend remarked yesterday that she hated Juno, the movie and the character, because it was pretentious and overly-precious. “Trying to be Napoleon Dynamite 2” was the phrase.

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.

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3 Responses

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  1. anu said, on January 4, 2008 at 12:55 am

    The first thing I will say is that you should totally switch to wordpress because it’s more conducive for a discussion.

    The second thing I will say is that I am proud that (HOPEFULLY) we will take this shit seriously.

    The third thing I will say is that I am happy to have inspired a post.

    And now I’ll begin: it wasn’t so much that I hated the movie, it’s just that Ellen Page’s character ruined it for me. I see what C is saying about the parallelling arcs of the characters (oh god that made me sound like such a douche) and your arguments make sense. In the end, I think it’s just one of those opinion things.

    Aside from Juno’s inability to shut up I also didn’t like that a) they didn’t make her out to be such an asshole in the ads and as a result I was ill-prepared for the overload and felt mislead. b) being tongue-in-cheek probably never crossed the writers minds… like they took the whole hamburger phone thing so seriously. “let’s make a movie about someone who is DIFFERENT! and we’ll give her the most DIFFERENT name we can think of too because that will make her really DIFFERENT” is a descriptive sentence that comes to mind.

    Then again, maybe I just need to watch it not-high and not sitting next to man constantly crinkling his 750 g bag of po-ta-toe chips.

    PS – allow non-blogger comments so i can link to NNE instead of my old, yucky blog.

  2. Scene said, on January 12, 2008 at 2:09 pm

    anu, sorry i never got around to responding. you are KILLING me on the blogging tip, that’s for sure.

    but yes, i’ve enabled non-blogger comments (i think), so i hope that helps.

    and we’ve discussed juno enough in person that i’ll it at that, lol.

  3. noops said, on January 13, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    Did you hear Michelle’s counter-argument??? “But you liked ‘Across the Universe’ soo…”

    She disliked ATU because she’s a Beatles nazi! Personal reasons nullifies her argument.


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