by Monika Bartyzel, published on May 7, 2010 - 9:02PM|
To quirk, or not to quirk: That is the question when discussion turns to Diablo Cody and Juno. Most viewers, whether they loved or hated the film, were quick to note the super-snappy, one-liner-laden dialogue. Our Scott Weinberg raved from TIFF, stating that Juno is "smart and sassy, warm yet frequently caustic, realistic but kinda storybookish -- and very, very funny." On the flip side -- ouch: "What a hideous piece of faux-hipster crap." "It's an inflated piece of filmmaking without any consideration of tone; it just floats out there on a rubber raft made of one-liners in a pool of cancerous indie comedy cred." "Juno pretends to care about real-world situations but is really interested only in its own trendier-than-thou cleverness, an obnoxious fantasy vision of teendom slathered in self-satisfied snark."
I get some of the derision. In a number of moments, it's funk-speak is taken a step or three too far. When Rainn Wilson says: "That Ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet," I always wish he'd leave off the skillet part. The rest of the phrase is still catchy, but also not entirely shocking since Ellen Page's Juno shakes that stick just like an Etch-a-Sketch. It's too apt to be unbelievably clever.
I sometimes wonder: is the chatter really that bad? Why does it hit audiences so much harder than classic flicks that create their own speak (Heathers, Clueless)? And, is the dialogue so distracting that naysayers just can't push past the Cody slang to see the perks beneath?
As much as I dig the film, I do think the dialogue could be dialed back just a little. Since most of the over-the-top phrasing comes from Juno, it would've been nice to see her be the only chatty hipster on the block -- her catchphrases being her personal thing. However, the wording seems more in vein with Hollywood's love of extremes than a sinister Cody plan to funk up all phrasing. We may not be used to hearing a character sound so catchy, but it doesn't seem much different than other exacerbated quirks on the big screen. "Yeah, I'm a legend. You know, they call me the cautionary whale," may be a pun that would not pass through the lips of most 16-year-old kids, but that doesn't seem any less realistic than a dork like McLovin' or a baddie like Steff.
In fact, for the most part, the kids get a greater sense of reality in Juno. Her high school experience intermingles a myriad of embarrassing moments and strange kid-isms. I love that Juno loves Paulie Bleeker and doesn't see his awkward flaws. I'm sure I'm not the only one who looks back over my school crushes and sometimes wonders what I was thinking. She adores him to a level we just can't understand, and there's nothing more naturally teen than that -- idolizing someone through the haze of idealistic childhood. Now, we might cringe, but then...
Do we feel strange about her way of speaking because she's in a real-world scenario? No one is killing anyone and making it look like suicide. No one is living in California, shopping, and living the life of fashion and fanciness. Because Juno drives a beat-up van, lives modestly, and goes to a school free of glitz and glamor, does that mean her words have to follow suit? Must dialogue reflect environment?
Perhaps because most on-screen teens live in a neat, decade-specific life, it seems strange when one dips into the past. So Thundercats happened 22 years before the events in the film (assuming it takes place the year the film was released). We live in a world of increasing means of recording and saving media. When I was a kid, I devoured Nick at Night and while most girls watched Jem and Strawberry Shortcake, I preferred Patty Duke, Haley Mills, and Batman -- each 20 years older than me. I still have tapes of He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, Cosby eps, and other childhood loves. I thought Cody handled it quite well, Juno being the youthful girl who thinks she's so culturally diverse, but possesses such huge holes in her knowledge. She knows Dario Argento, but has never heard of Herschell Gordon Lewis. She loves The Runaways and Iggy Pop, but is not familiar with Sonic Youth.
"Superstar," in fact, offered quite a wonderful way to reveal Juno's lack of more recent song knowledge while also embodying Mark's life in one song. The lyrics speak to his feelings of isolation, and his adoration of the song immediately codes him as the man who thinks those last thirteen years just flew right by. He gets a taste that he is the Dad now, liking that old generation's music, but at the same time, he completely rejects that idea because he doesn't feel different and cannot accept that life means moving to the house with the white picket fence, anal-retentive cleanliness, and stereotypically adult pursuits.
This pushes Juno to a path that leads to one really adult decision, answering the question: What type of parent do you want your child to be raised by? She clearly likes Mark a lot more than Vanessa. He's fun with great taste, while she's overly clean and well-polished. Juno is definitely drawn to the couple initially because of him. But when he flakes, and Juno thinks of how she saw Vanessa with her friend's child, she realizes which one will make the good parent. It almost toes the line suggesting that music and media are nothing more than childish pursuits, which I hate, but by contrasting that to Vanessa's clearly sanitary and stereotypical view of life, you can see that it's just as much about who he's with as where he is in his life.
Juno starts off almost inhuman, no real emotional moments or soul-searching about her pregnancy, which is definitely a flaw. But in time, all these little bits of life start pressing her to interact and feel. She learns in some ways to be a parent, and more importantly -- who real parents are (whether we're talking about Vanessa or her own stepmother).
Could Juno have been better? For sure. Is it terrible? Not in the least.