Thursday, September 16, 2010

More Movies: "Juno"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Jason Reitman, 2007

Ebert: 4 Stars
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
My Official Preconception: Some sort of uplifting, socially responsible teen motherhood lovefest, I think. Sounds dreadful.


It's too bad that this movie's DVD cover trumpets Roger Ebert’s opinion that it is "The Best Picture of the Year."* Having seen that, I fought against a sense of "eh, it's not that great" for the entire film, rather than enjoying it as a lightweight but funnier-than-usual comedy. So it goes.

To say what this film is "about" -- teen pregnancy -- tells you much less than to tell you that it fits into the glib glib glib tradition pioneered by The Graduate and worked productively for many years by Wes Anderson. You've got the troubled-but-plucky misfits, a selective social critique of the bland and the conformist, plenty of self-conscious quirkiness, and, for the first three quarters of the running time, a long arm's length between the characters and their emotional lives. Oh, and you've got alternative twee-rock incidental music, a good set of songs but placed so high in the mix that once again we've got a movie that comes off as an advertisement for its own soundtrack.

For a movie about teen pregnancy, Juno is remarkably undidactic -- except for one cringe-worthy piece of preachiness (at the sonogram). The film's attitude towards two key characters, a suburban couple, is interesting. The woman of the couple is baby-crazy and the epitome of conventionality, but she ultimately emerges as somebody we are sympathetic with. The husband of the couple is a free-thinking pop-culture loving alt.dude, the kind of person who might enjoy a movie like Juno in fact, but he turns out to be a cretin. Is the movie admirable for showing us some human complexity? Or is it just confused about who and what it's making fun of? I'd like to think it's the former, but I kind of suspect the latter. Juno is chockablock with good visual and verbal gags, though, and for a comedy that might be more important than conceptual coherence.


Prognosis: * * * Funny and quietly sweet, this is a fine entertainment for anybody who feels like they were a misunderstood oddball and quietly defiant rebel back in high school. Which is to say, anyone reading these words. Probably among The Best Thirty Movies of the Year!

*DVD Box: "The Best Movie of the Year. -- Roger Ebert."
Ebert's Actual Review: "Jason Reitman's 'Juno' is just about the best movie of the year."


gl. said...

gack. i am truly the only person in portland who didn't like juno. i was hoping you'd be the other, but alas, i am truly outcast.

however, i -was- grateful they chose to be sympathetic towards jennifer garner's character.

Michael5000 said...

I didn't like it all that much. Does that help?

Jenners said...

I enjoyed Juno ... it was definitely "better than average" and I'm just a fan of Michael Cera. And I was so sad when Jason Bateman's character turned out to be such a dud. Ugh.

Rebel said...

The one thing that really really annoyed me about this movie was how ridiculously precocious Juno was. She was an expert on music that came out before she was even born... seriously?

But other than that, I did think it was a sweet movie, funnier than average, and as you put it- very good advertisement for it's soundtrack. ;)

Michael5000 said...

Actually, I find that in real life too many of the alternative kids are eerily knowledgeable about niche music of times past. I disapprove but am powerless to change it.

Elaine said...

Well, I really enjoyed the movie--enough that, when I had to cut short seeing it all the way through, I made a point of trying again and included Hubby Dearest. We howled, especially at the part where Juno is telling the dad and step-mom (who totally saw it coming but hoped desperately it would be getting expelled or something like that...) Maybe it's to do with our status as 'old parents' (in both sense of the words) but we thought it was very well done and not quite as over-simplified as your review hints. All of the music stuff? Totally over my head.

Michael5000 said...

Elaine: That is a good scene. Comments on the FB edition have been about the actor who played Juno's father, who I thought was quite good with a difficult assignment: the character had to be very laid back but supportive and loving, and had to be both comic but plausible. It was pulled off nicely.

Here's the thing: If Juno had appeared out of a blue sky, I would think it was entirely marvelous. But I can't watch it without reflecting on a long lineage of similarly toned films, random examples of which would be Garden State, Donnie Darko, Rushmore, and, as I mentioned in the review, The Graduate and the entire Wes Anderson corpus. Now these are all pretty good to pretty great films, and there's nothing wrong with having another good one in the hopper, hence three stars. But having seen all of the above, I felt a certain... lack of freshness from Juno.

I'm glad you thought it was funny. I did too!

Elaine said...

Maybe the problem (for me, that is) would be that I have NOT seen anything on the list there but 'The Graduate,' and I don't know who Wes Anderson is. Guess that made it fresher for me! SOMEone has to be the last to see these flicks, eh?