Wednesday, June 1, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "JUNO"

JUNO (2007)

Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody



I shocked a lot of people when I had "Juno" ranked ahead of both "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" on my Top Ten of 2007 list, when I was going through the Top Tens of all the decades. At the time the movie came out, I had it ranked number one, and thought it should've won the Oscar. I still think that, look I love those other films, and yes, I now placed "Once" just ahead of it, but "Juno" should've won, and I completely, do not get the supposed backlash to this movie. Yeah, I just rewatched the Nostalgia Critic's commentary on it, and whatever the hell, "Juno-ing" is and I don't know what the hell he, or anybody else is talking about. This movie was good, but then, turned out not? Jesus, I cry at the end of this movie every time I watch it, and I'm called the heartless film critic, screw all of you. This movie is absolutely as delightful, funny, whip-smart observant and brilliant as ever. A smart teenager, smart adults, in, as Juno (Oscar-nominee Ellen Page) puts it, a situation that's way above her maturity level, and not overblown and treated intelligently, why did this movie, suddenly become public enemy number one? Because people and teenagers don't talk like the way Diablo Cody writes them? Really, have you heard how stupidly most kids talk half the time, I'd rather much hear the quirky dwellings of the somewhat smart ones. I'll take great quirky dialogue any day, especially when it's this dialogue.

And you know, it's smart dialogue, but not too smart, just quirky that it's something believable for someone to say, and yet, just observant enough that it's not exactly as knowledge-filled as she seems. Soupy Sales had nothing to do with Soup, for instance. Or for that matter, talking about living through the best time for rock'n'roll, which took place before she was born, (Not that she's wrong but still....)

The real key to the movie, isn't the dialogue however, it's the attitude and the tone. It's not just that it's a different take on the material, it's that it's this take on the material. Diablo Cody's take, which is both unique and universal. She's proven in other films and television shows that dialogue isn't her crutch either, It's a look at a common problem, through a different lens that we're used to, at least in film. And probably in real life too. It's amazing how many times we see a seen in "Juno" where, every other movie, we know exactly how the seen would turn out, but then, she manages to circumvent that and create, a more conflicted and more observant situation. The most famous one, that everybody commented on is the scene where Juno tells her father and stepmom, Mac and Bren (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) about the pregnancy. She slept with her friend Paulie (Michael Cera), because, well just because she wanted to, and yes, that's, I can speak from experience here, that's about how that would happen. (Except I would be clueless about everything and completely miss all the signals and/or just say no to the sex, which happened, that one, two, several times. [Sigh]) and her parents, react, rather calm, almost like it could've happen, they even say that expected here to say that she was pregnant, even thought they didn't know she was sexually active. And why wouldn't they have? It's not that shocking, I lost count of how many friends of mine in high school either had pregnancy scares, or were pregnant at some point, or even rumored to be pregnant. They're adults, so they would know what being a teenager was and is like, it's not exactly like they said she was going to turn uranium and gold or she blew up Fort Knox or something. It actually makes all the other similar scenes of this in movies and tv shows, seem, pedestrian and over-the-top.

That's not the scene I think of though, I think of the really uncomfortable scene, later in the movie. when, after she finds adoptive parents, Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), she begins befriending them, and Mark in particular, as she updates on the pregnancy. It's clear that, there's a slight spiritual connection between Juno and Mark, as they discuss music and match old horror movies occasionally, but then there's a scene we've been fearing, where they begin to get a little too close, and literally they're dancing and swaying, like something really bad could happen, Juno, Mark and literally a kid between them, and then, something else happens. I won't give it away, but that's the climatic scene the movie really earns by having what came before it. It's set up beautifully too, on first viewings, we react positively to Mark, and Vanessa, is the one coming off, as a little obnoxious, yuppie hippie-ish and Mark is the cool opposite one to her. Artistic, musician, he's a jingle writer who still dreams of being a rock star in a band, but on later viewings, there's more going on there. There's actually quite a bit going on in the movie. There's more foreshadowing than it seems at first, conversations between Juno and other characters, that kinda seem like they're unnecessary at first, but became more necessary to the movie as they go on, and the movie finds a way to go from quirky and slick to downright heartbreaking. I don't use the term "Juno-ing", but I do use the term, "Junoverse", 'cause once we found our way into this world, we find ourselves there and truly getting emotionally effected. The movie it claims it starts and ends with a chair, but it actually starts and ends with songs, both of which show Juno, paired with someone else, the first time, it's her walking to the store we think alone, in the opening credits which are depicted in beautiful comic book style animation, going to yet another pregnancy test to confirm her unborn child. The last scene, her and Paulie, singing a love to and about each other, playing guitars, her part-time lover and full-time friend, back together without the unwanted pregnancy in the way, and all is right with their world.

As to whether this is all pregnancy, no, I don't get why anybody thought that, even then, but I think this is the way, we'd...- well, I don't know about wish or hope a bad situation like teenage pregnancy would end up, but I think it's just, the way we kind hope it would.  I do think it's the way we wish our teenager years actually were, and actually, quite a bit of it, was pretty accurate. I knew the girls who ate lunch inside the display case that, they or somebody was probably in the middle of changing, I've seen large displays, like moving furniture from a front lawn to go and talk with somebody, or surprise them. This, never came off as, too quirky to be believable to me. Maybe, 'cause I knew people like Juno, or maybe I share some of the same quirks as her. Hell, now that I think about it, I think I'm the only one in my class in high school, that probably new who Soupy Sales actually was, much less new the name at all.

The direction by Jason Reitman is subtle and yet quietly brilliant, and he's still one of the premiere names of directors who are actually good at telling fairly commercial movies and make them good. Most of the time. He previously did "Thank You for Smoking", but "Juno" was his first masterpiece. He's the son of Ivan Reitman, and he's now one of the best directors working in Hollywood, and one of the few who can take some really high-concept ideas and make them mainstream. That's just as difficult as anything else in film.

That said, the real breakout is Diablo Cody however. and Reitman's at his best when he's working together with her. Diablo Cody, has maybe the greatest nobody-to-Oscar-winner story, ever, when she was an ad ever. Originally named, Brook Busey, she changed her name to the greatest pen name ever, Diablo Cody, which she first wrote under through numerous blogs, sometimes autobiographically, other times as characters she wrote, this was after working at a midwestern ad agency, she started working as a stripper and phone sex operator, an experience that led to her first novel "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper" and I swear I'm not making this up, became the first and only author inducted to David Letterman's book club. (It's was during his parodying Oprah thing) When she penned "Juno", she was known for her blog "The Pussy Ranch", and now writes a column for Entertainment Weekly. That said, you'd think somebody as unusual as her would probably be a fairly quirky and chipper person like Juno MacGuff, but the thing, unlike some of the other writers who turned their first script into a Oscar, she's someone who's legitimately one of the most interesting and uniquely great writers around. She's seems to be full of ideas, and not all of them are nice. As much as I love "Juno", her script for "Young Adult", about a truly dislike-able and abrasive character is really one of the best and most underrated films and scripts in recent years; she may have told a great three-act structured film with "Juno", but she was out to absolutely destroy the conventional Hollywood arc in that film. She's also created the overlooked and brilliant TV series, "The United States of Tara", she followed up "Juno" with a horror comedy movie of all things, and a good one at that with "Jennifer's Body", and wrote and directed her own feature "Paradise" a movie that got so many weird things right about Las Vegas that I was almost positive that she must've lived here at some point in her life, but apparently not, and then last year she wrote "Ricki and the Flash" which Jonathan Demme directed. It's kinda unusual how each film, she's really gone out of her way to portray her characters, especially her female protagonists in some sketchy and very complex lights. "Young Adult" features a young adult novelist who's a complete train wreck of a person and by the end of the movie, she's probably more of a train wreck than when she started. In "Paradise" a former religion girl, abandons her previously life after a horrific plane accident nearly burned her alive to have some fun for once in her life in Vegas and in "Ricki..." we follow a failure of a rock star who's coming back home to the family that she abandoned years earlier. That character was loosely based on her former mother-in-law, but we have artists and people who seems to be trying to change and leave their old lives, trying to reinvent themselves, and not necessarily nice characters. And, one that becomes a bloodsucking bisexual vampire that's out to destroy her former best friend, and their teenagers, so destroying their youth. This kinda makes sense from the author of what is the most poetic and beautiful interpretation of teen pregnancy since, back in the time when teen pregnancy was the expectation and not the anomaly, but she also creates some vicious characters. I think oddly the character in "Juno" I look at now and imagine she probably most associates with is Allison Janney's stepmother, who's warm and  comforting, with a kid of her own with Juno's father, but has her own dreams, however small they are, like getting a dog, but is first to confront Juno or anybody when somebody tries to get in her face. She has a great speech in a scene at a hospital after a snappy nurse, talks about how she's seen enough teenage mothers and talks about how adoption is the right choice, and yes, it's absolutely the way somebody needs to confront people, on any side of the abortion/adoption/pro-life debate, no matter the side or even the situation.

Hell, for all we know, with the quirky country-ish indy soundtrack songs, the too-cool-for-everybody-else dialogue of references and jokes, the portrayal of a happy and understanding family, accurate portrayal of other high school kids, you could hypothetically look at "Juno", as Cody, simply using the teenage pregnancy narrative as a way to portray her vision of her high school experience, the feeling, the tone, etc. I did say it was called the "Junoverse", didn't I, although it might not necessarily be in any DiabloCodyverse. It is a universe though, and there's so much to it, both on the surface and underneath and it gets deeper and more complex the more you watch it.

















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