Sunday, June 1, 2008

Juno Was a Lousy Movie

SOAPBOX ALERT: I usually try to avoid both preaching and critiquing movies at TPM, but sometimes a guy's just gotta harangue. So here I go:

Juno is only barely a movie about bringing new life into the world. It's primarily a postmodern moral experiment to see if ironic, near-weightless characters can have their cake and eat it too. To achieve this, it has to abandon the traditional stuff of reproductive drama, like territoriality, responsibility, and the powerful, conflicting bonds that exist between lovers, parents and offspring, in favour of an idealized grrl-topia where men behave like passive, indulgent milquetoasts or sexual predators, and mothers-to-be are somehow empowered by acting like selfish, irresponsible babies themselves.

The infant that arrives at the film's end is passed off to Garner's character with hardly a tear (says Juno in the voiceover: "She was never really ours, anyway"), and comes off more like an afterthought or prop than an actual human being. This child is inexplicably delivered from a promising domestic situation in which both parents are present (and in love!) along with three biological grandparents and a committed step-spouse, and into the hands of a single mother who has demonstrably poor taste in men--the equivalent of this in poker would be to throw out an entire royal flush for a queen and a joker. No one with any real-life childbearing experience could write a movie in which allegedly sane people think and act this way.

Juno tacitly encourages young women to think that pregnancy is all about them. It isn't. Juno also falsely suggests that giving up a baby after carrying it around for 9 months isn't much harder than getting one's appendix out. Whether one is pro-choice or pro-life is irrelevant--everyone should be pro-responsibility and pro-reality, and Juno is neither. It is a travesty, a celebration of narcissism and immaturity, and it's sad that real teenagers who don't know any better are going to take cues from this ridiculous film.

Blinkered selfishness and intelligent self-interest are not the same thing at all. The sooner more feminist-influenced artists figure this out, the sooner they'll stop making shitty movies like Juno.

(Image from


Glenn said...

I really don't think you can call Diablo Cody anything close to a feminist artist.

Also, I really hated Juno too. And I think everybody who claims to love it so much secretly hates it but is worried about looking unhip, because whenever I say I can't stand the movie its supporters get ridiculously furious. Compensating for liking an obviously bad movie, perhaps?

John said...

Diablo Cody was a stripper, so I doubt she's a classic, card carrying feminist, but I still think Juno had a distinctly feminist bent. The young, spunky pregnant girl flouting traditional expectations and the neutered, sulking, ball-less male characters indicate to me that gender role reversal is Juno's first order of business. Of course, this in itself doesn't make it a feminist movie, but the fact that this is pushed so far that the characters become completely unrealistic and that the movie is somehow smug about it's characters' lack of verisimilitude is what makes me suspect sophomoric feminism at work.

I think the moment I realized Juno had an agenda was when Page was sitting there with the pipe in her mouth. Ugh.

Shauna said...

Is Ellen Page the queen of misrepresented experiences in movies? Have you seen Mouth to Mouth? Its about a girl who runs away and joins a "collective" (i.e., a cult) in the interests of being free and unique like everybody else. Although the creepy cultishness is hit right on the head, there's absolutely no underlying reasons for anything (why she runs away, what the cult is trying to achieve, what are the motives of any of the characters, why they start dancing at random). So yah, I'm worried that Halifax's golden girl has become the next generation Christina Ricci (a la Pumpkin) or Wynona Ryder (a la Girl Interrupted). A really deeply shallow type-cast character with a unique-looking and somewhat charming actress to try and make up for the meaninglessness of said character's flatness. E.P. is darned cute, and that makes it easy to like her.

You hit the nail on the head, John. Juno made me angry from the perspective of someone who's worked with teenage girls who truly do believe that pregnancy is all about them, and having a baby is a great way to get attention. The damned movie validates and justifies that idea, even celebrates it. Gross.

But I would disagree with you on one point. I think Jennifer Garner's character will make a great single mom. I'd like to think that womens' taste in men doesn't define their mothering ability (as long as they know when to get rid of said men, which J.G. did). Juno was way to self-involved and annoyingly sarcastic to be a good mom, and hopefully that extended family of grandparents can still be involved in kiddo's life. Maybe its the tabloids blurring my senses, but I thing J.G. is a great mommy-type.

Jan said...

You have very legitimate reasons for hating Juno. I must admit, however, that I quite liked the film. I def see your point about it being completely unrealistic and romanticizing irresponsibility, but I think that can be said of many films I enjoy. (Dazed and Confused is probably the best example of this.)

I really didn't see Juno as promoting social justice for women - which is the most useful way for me to gauge whether something is feminist or not. I would suggest that Juno's wankery behaviour is more about her being a spoiled, pomo hippie, and less about the film pushing some half-baked feminist agenda.

John said...

Shauna: You really thought she was mother material? I didn't think she had a motherly bone in her body. I got the impression that she just wanted a baby to "fix" whatever was missing in her marriage to creepazoid Bateman.

But maybe you're right. Maybe she learned something. I'm pretty sure there's a shitload of statistics out there, though, that support the idea that children are usually better off with their natural parents, especially when a stable extended family is involved.

Quammy said...

I liked Juno, but it's definitely not a movie that's easy to defend. I think most of my goodwill for this movie is rooted in two factors. Firstly, there were a handful of good performances from the cast (Juno's Dad, Arrested Development alums, etc.). Secondly, when I was in high school I was head over heels for a Juno-type chick.

It's funny though, since the movie is so thick with quirky dialogue and "indie" charm, it will undoubtabley age poorly. I can only imagine someone watching it for the first time ten years from now.

John said...

Jan: I don't think Juno was pushing "social justice" in naked quasi-Marxist material terms, but rather a slightly stretched version of the notion that biology isn't destiny and that gender roles can be "fluid." According to the principles of ecriture feminine, the political can be highly personal and vice versa. I'm not accusing Juno of being outright propaganda, just of letting its politics get in the way of its realism.

To put it a little differently, Juno had abundant male characters, but no patriarchs at all. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the absence of patriarchy in the film was contrived, deliberate, and very political (i.e. feminist, or at least feminist-inspired). This would have been fine if the film was honest, which it wasn't.

Quammy, you're just in love with the Moldy Peaches. Admit it.

John said...

I'm embarrassed to have confused "its" and "it's" in my response to Glenn. Oh my.

Brad Roach said...

What are the only two things bigger than the hype about Juno? Jennifer Garner's ears. I tell ya, that lady could go skydivin' without a parachute, no foolin'.

John said...

Every time I bring up the fact that Jennifer Garner looks like the mildly retarded love child of Audrey Hepburn and Dopey the Dwarf, I get savagely brow-beaten. And who the fuck could sit through an hour of Alias? I mean, come on!