‘Juno’ and I know it’s all a sham

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MacGuffin is a term used in the movies to describe a certain item that can advance the story but has no real meaning whatsoever. One of the most recent examples would be the glowing contents of the suitcase in “Pulp Fiction.” The object has been discussed and dissected by film geeks for more than a decade, with guesses ranging from an embodiment of violence to a human soul.

The reason for this definition is the recent indie darling “Juno,” which is winning praise from critics across the country for its sharp, incisive dialogue compliments of flavor-of-the-month writer Diablo Cody.

The female protagonist, a pregnant 16-year-old who has decided to place her child for adoption, is named Juno MacGuff, and she, as written by Cody, is merely an empty item that allows the writer to spout off witticisms and pop cultural knowledge as though she was on some VH1 “I Love the ’80s” installment that, in the end, mean nothing.

Fittingly, Juno (played by Ellen Page) begins the film as a cartoon as the opening credits roll. Sadly, that is all she is at the remainder of the film.

There is barely a moment of the film that this child, or this film, feels authentic. We are meant to be amused by Juno’s straight-talking quirkiness, which is a mash-up of doctoral level knowledge of Trivial Pursuit obscurities and mall-speak. But every line is just some self-conscious blathering filled with plenty of attitude and not an ounce of heart.

If that were not enough, we are spoon-fed even more quirk by watching Juno gab on her kitschy hamburger phone ( don’t worry if you did not know it was a hamburger phone, as Juno is compelled to tell random people on line that she is speaking on a hamburger phone), we watch her dine inside the school trophy case, we are deafened by the awkward indie-folk soundtrack (which, trust me kids, will not be as cool as you think it is once you download it on your iPods), we listen to her regurgitate lines like “I’d like to procure a hasty abortion.”

Really, who says this?

This is a lot of blame to place on the shoulders on one person in the entire production, but it is Cody’s cellophane-thick foundation on which the entire film is based. It certainly is not the fault of the actors involved. As Juno, Page tries to make her seem somewhat normal, even though she’s capable of espousing encyclopedic knowledge of punk rock and splatter films. Michael Cera is suitably awkward as the accidental father of the child and his former “Arrested Development” castmate Jason Bateman gives more legitimacy to the role of the tentative adoptive father than the part deserves. It’s too bad Cody saddles him with the potential of being a child molester, as he becomes increasingly closer to the ever-wise Juno.

The film’s only glimpse of what resembles humans are Jennifer Garner, as the perspective adoptive mother who longs to have a baby in her life. Again, as written by Cody, she is little more than a domineering, icy yuppie, forcing her hubby into parenthood. But it’s through Garner’s expressions when she feels the baby kick in Juno’s stomach that give her role the warmth it requires.

The ever-dependable J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney also rise above their peculiarities (he takes to working on air conditioning units on the kitchen table, she cuts out pictures of dogs, even though she does not own one! How zany!). They lend the tiniest dignity in what is penned as stereotypical Minnesotan suburbanites.

Where “Juno” completely unravels, though, is in its superficial, tacked-on ending that tries to humanize its characters, attempting to convince us that somehow Juno cares for the stability of her adoptive couple, or love for her sperm donor. It all just reeked of some suck-up film school student protracting a “feel good” finale for the masses hungry for the next ray of “Little Miss Sunshine” to gobble up.

Too little, too late. For the majority Cody occupies herself with scribbling the line after line of T-shirt-ready dialogue (just in time for stores to take down all those passe “Napoleon Dynamite” “Vote for Pedro” shirts) with such poseur desperation you can almost smell the sweat.

I can only hope that this tidal wave of love splashed on the film will force repeated viewings, where the threads of this hand-me-down will become abundantly clear and reveal this indie emperor truly has no clothes.

~ by usesoapfilm on January 7, 2008.

6 Responses to “‘Juno’ and I know it’s all a sham”

  1. it’s about time someone disliked this film.

  2. I’m a good friend of Will Hyler, so he sent me this, and THANK GOD. The Juno backlash is growing, and thanks for so eloquently expressing why such a backlash should exist. I walked out when the “What bands do you like?” conversation began. I’m glad to hear the ending didn’t redeem the movie. I can’t even fathom that people are comparing it to “Little Miss Sunshine”, a film in which the characters talk like human beings. Keep fighting the good fight!

  3. Did someone spit in your cornpuffs this morning? Not Authentic?! Gee Rob, I guess you don’t remember what it was like to be a sixteen year old girl who is unpopular, non-conforming, witty and….accidentally pregnant. Was Ferris Bueller’s dialog authentic? Napoleon Dynamite’s dialog, was that authentic? That teenage boy in Little Miss Sunshine who refused to speak for weeks and who’s parents actually humored him in doing this – was his character authentic?? W-T-F?? How many dry sarcastic teenage GIRLS have you seen on film lately that you could use to compare Juno’s character to? Name for me a good comedy with a teenage FEMALE lead that you’ve seen in the last 10 years.
    Jeez! Hollywood FINALLY greenlights a movie with a teenage female lead who doesn’t need rescuing by Prince Charminga and doesn’t look like Reece Witherspoon and you have to pick THIS film, (a film that, by the way, every film lover that I know who has seen at every age level has enjoyed), to be snarky about. Just because you couldn’t relate to Juno’s character doesn’t make her unreal. Oh, and that hamburger phone…was very popular in the 80s. It’s kitcschy and retro, get it Rob? – just like Juno’s taste in armchairs, music, clothing, and even that kid she’s in love with…with his dorky knee highs and bright gold nylon running shorts…its a running gag.

  4. Diablo, is that you?
    Before anyone else wishes to inflict bodily harm on me for hating their beloved film, I must insist that you have first seen Ghost World (2001) (add it to your Netflix queue, kids!), where a similar female protagonist, played by Thora Birch, is much more convincing — and her character was based on a cartoon (whereas Juno is supposed to be a character, but merely written like a cartoon).
    It may be hard to beleive, but I grew up in the 80s. I got the references. I just don’t need them all spoon-fed to me.
    And I disliked Mr. Dynamite as well.
    Let’s try to not take this personally. I never said I was Prince Charming-a.
    So endeth the lesson.

  5. Liked Ghost World…disgree on Juno but don’t take it personally. I just saw your dittohead’s posts and felt the overwhelming need add a female counterpoint.

  6. My wife and I are retired public high school school teachers. We both knew”one girl” much like Juno and the movie character was also unique. I knew nothing of Juno reviews across the nation all I know is “I liked the movie. I thought it was funny and trust me I know funny. “Good Morning Vietnam.”I also know Rob the Reviewer and Runner and private Catholoc school Spartan and he is a great guy very smart but not funny in most circles. There was ironically sitting near me during the moviea fat teenage high school girl with a baby scaling her chest during the film with the aid of a Sherpa and she and her friends laughed only when the heard single words they thought were gross becuase none of them ever knew a Juno which doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist.

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