Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In Defense of "Juno" [Spoilers!!]

WARNING: If you haven't seen the movie and you intend to, you might want to skip this one.

So, during one of my many hangovers last week (just another perk of my temporary "Social Butterfly" status) I was looking for something amuse me while I lay on the couch in a stupor, and I stumbled across Juno on HBO On Demand.

Now, everyone I know who has seen the movie had had one of two reactions: Absolute Adoration, or Complete and Utter Loathing... with Loathing holding a commanding lead. Never being one to form an opinion without personal experience, I decided that it was high time I checked it out for myself.

So I watched it.


I liked it.


Not Loved Beyond All Limit of What Else in the World*; but also not Hated With the Fire of a Thousand Suns**.

The soundtrack was painfully and pretentiously Indie, but being that it fit in with the overall feel of the movie, I was willing to let it slide (even if my teeth did grind a bit every time a new song began).

I watched with an open mind, trying not to mentally catalog "Things That Annoy Me" (other than the soundtrack), which is what I felt most of the Loathers had done. When it ended, I was left undecided, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, for the most part, I had really enjoyed it.

And then I started thinking about the complaints that I'd heard from the Loathing camp, and there are a few that I would like to address.

First, and potentially most absurd, was the idea that the character of Sue Chin was racist. Yes, racist.


Sterotypical, okay, yes. Not all Asian Americans speak poor English... but some do; and from what I know of Diablo Cody, she hardly strikes me as a racist. I'm guessing that this particular character and incident were based on some sort of personal experience, or a person she's known in the real world. Whatever the source, she clearly had a reason for writing the character as she did; and the director kept the character as written, and I highly doubt that "make Asian people look stupid" was either of their modus operandi.

And honestly, that scene? Going to get an abortion and having one lone protestor outside the clinic? And having it be someone you know? AMAZING! For both of them... because, in that situation... what do you do?

The second complaint I've heard is that the movie is pretentious. At first, I thought so too, but the more I watched, the more I realized that it's not the film itself, per se, but the characters in the film. Follow me?

Juno is a perfect example of a "cooler than thou" hipster youth. Jason Bateman's character is a classic "I'm too cool for this life" adult with a Peter Pan complex. Michael Cera is... okay, Michael Cera. Seriously, that kid is so sweet and sincere it gives me a toothache. Is he capable of playing any other type of character? Could he please try?

Sorry, I got sidetracked. The bottom line on this one is that, at the heart of this movie are several characters who need to grow up... if there was no room for character growth, why the hell would we watch?

And finally, the complaint I find most ludicrous, is that the movie makes teen pregnancy look like a good thing, or that it's not enough of a cautionary tale.

Um, hi. Not meant to be a cautionary tale! (Though the line about kids at school calling her "The Cautionary Whale" was easily the best one-liner in the entire script). Juno is not a "message movie," nor is it an After School Special, or a Lifetime Movie of the Week. It does not exist to preach the morality (or immorality) of teen pregnancy, or make a statement about what one should or should not do in such a situation.

It is a story. It is fiction. It exists, in its entirety, to tell that story in an engaging and entertaining manner. Making choices and forming opinions are the job of the audience, not the storyteller. The film does not exist to tell us what to do.

Keeping all of that in mind, what I liked best about this film is that at its core, it felt honest and genuine.

Not every girl's parents will throw a fit and/or kick her out of the house if she gets knocked up. (We've already got "Quinceanera" for that, which, btw, is a kick-ass movie). I liked that this movie showed supportive parents doing their best to help their kid through a rough situation. And the moment when Allison Janney chews out the sonogram technician? AH-mazing!

Sure, Juno seems awfully blase about being pregnant, but she's a freaking teenager! Of course she's acting like she's got it all under control! That's what we do! And she thinks she's found the perfect solution: give the kid away to a seemingly "perfect," family. Young, wealthy, attractive... what could go wrong?

But when it does go wrong? That's when she makes the most mature decision of the entire film. She sees that her "perfect" plan was perhaps not so perfect after all; that, in effect, nothing is ever as perfect as we want it to be... and, stripped of her fairy tale, she makes a real decision... and it is not easy.

I feel like the course of this movie is less about Juno being pregnant, and more about her learning how to "get over herself," so to speak. And how some of us (Jason Bateman), never do.

I have no idea if I made my point here, nor do I know why I felt driven to defend this movie so vehemently. I guess that, in my eyes, the haters just sort of missed the point.

I'm sure there are many out there who could rebut every point I've made here, and may feel free to do so if that's what makes them happy. I just feel like Juno got a bad rap that I don't feel it deserved.

That's just my $.02.

* Catch that Shakespeare reference?
** Look! Another one!


Lily said...

I love this review! I loved the movie, but I'm a little biased as I absolutely love Diablo Cody. I read her "i was a stripper" memoir and fell in love with her story-telling style.

I completely agree - this is NOT a morality piece! It's a fictional story that's meant to entertain. And entertain it did.

So@24 said...

Hmmmm... I personally thought it had its head up its own ass.

But, to each his own.

Have you seen Slumdog??

Hope said...

I also enjoyed this movie. And while I think that Hollywood do, at times, have a moral obligation to make movies with positive messages simply because of their awesome power, I do not think that this movie glamorized teenage pregnancy at all. And those people that want it to be a cautionary tale? What did they want exactly? Her parents throwing her out on the street? Her life being ruined by this one mistake?

Yes, cause that's what we need. More pressure from the media that if we don't conform to some sort of universal standard that we are horrible people with no potential.

Lpeg said...

I liked this too - not loved, not hated, but liked.

amy said...

Ugh. I HATED Juno. (I'm also not a fan of Diablo Cody.)

But the worst part about HATING Juno? I really wanted to like it. But alas, I did not. I REALLY DID NOT.

Sorry, I'll stop now.