Saturday, December 15, 2007

Juno and (un)deserved endings

We watched 'Juno' yesterday - I enjoyed it and laughed embarrassingly in at least a dozen places, but there was one nagging little problem that I only figured out when I got home.

The story is largely divided into two parts: Juno and friend/boyfriend Paulie (and school) and Juno and the adoptive parents of her baby, Vanessa and Mark. The former scenes are overly witty and sardonic - not unlike Knocked Up or Superbad if they had been directed by Wes Andersen, I suppose. The latter part is still clever and snide, but it's heavier and tinged with an anxiety and cynicism that's much more recognizably adult and is entirely absent in the other scenes. Juno (and, too a much smaller extent, her dad) is the only common element.

When the movie ends, each half seems to rely on the other to bail it out: Vanessa and Mark's story ends well in advance of the film's conclusion, which saves us from dwelling on its tragedy, and Juno and Paulie's relationship takes on a sudden emotional weight that seems to have been produced almost entirely by an implicit comparison to Mark and Vanessa's relationship. (This comparison is made by Juno, of course, so as ensure that the viewers aren't entirely responsible for figuring out why the Juno-Paulie situation has a sudden dramatic weight.) And it feels, to some degree, like that weight is unearned. And maybe it is... but, despite myself, I find that the figurative move still seems to work in the end because of Juno. (And Ellen Page, of course, for showing some ridiculous range.) The whole genre exercise that Juno's school friends and family are taking part in may not deserve the emotionally weighty ending, but Juno herself does - and that's enough.


scott s said...

I agree with you but dont understand "each half seems to rely on the other to bail it out." I thought the movie transitioned from the sarcastic superficial first act to the heavy second quite well, by systematically reversing our expectations of different characters: the evil stepmom becomes kind and heroic, the yuppie lame Jennifer Garner character becomes emotionally real, and the cool male adolescent Jason Batman becomes sad and perverted.

I thought the whole thing operated as a pretty decent critique of male adolescence, which it sets up somewhat annoyingly in the line "I dont know what kind of girl i am." eventually Juno transcends the sarcastic, fanboy preoccupations of male youth (the jason bateman character) towards "serious motherhood" (embodied by the stepmom and Jennifer garner, and set up by the father when he says "someday you'll be back here on your own terms").

neilshyminsky said...

re: each half. I think that the 'adult' half of the movie would've been crushed under its own weight without the lighter fair of Juno's friends and school. That 'adolescent' half also provides a bit of a distraction from some of the more problematic parts of the 'adult' half - for instance, Juno is able to avoid addressing her complicity in coming on to Jason Bateman's character. Had that half been the entire movie, we wouldn't have allowed her to do so.

Your second paragraph is well taken, though. I hadn't noticed how it was gendered, just that the three supporting characters you mention are all pretty archetypal and their personal revelations are pretty predictable. The Juno and dad relation is pretty nice, though.

will said...

Given the persona of the screenwriter (whose backstory now seems unfortunately integral to one's enjoyment of the movie, if you pay any attention to that sort of nonsense), the critique of adolescent masculinity seems telegraphed and maybe, as you say, archetypal/predictable, but I think the predictability of it is crucial, because there really aren't many representations of the facility of male youth that come equipped with criticism. Even in something like Knocked-Up, where you are supposed to understand the Rogen character's anxiety/conflict about self-actualization, there's still a sense of You-Gotta-Love-These-Guys! that abounds. Whereas here, it's exposed as kind of creepy and sad.

Which kinda makes Michael Cera's performance pretty stellar, to me. In an underwritten role that could be seen as some kind of parallel/precursor to the Bateman character, he kind of emerges as a quietly heroic character, out of step with the follies of adolescent maleness due to his singularity. Which reminds me, I don't find that Juno line that Scott S referenced ("I don't know what kind of girl I am") to be anything more than another Original! stamp, as out of step with regular girldom as Cera's character is with regular boydom.

One last thought: while I found the Bateman/Juno/Garner storyline to be somewhat resonant or at least closer to my sensibility than the Juno/her best friend/school part, in spite of the ridiculous dialogue the latter story almost seemed truer in tone. Possibly because I laughed at the dialogue and laughed at myself for laughing at it, for knowing that I would have loved it when I was Juno's age, for being so far removed from that now, and for cringing at it in the way that I cringe at teenagers now when I'm riding the subway and overhearing their conversations. Content isn't the same but my response is. I think I've come to the realization (especially after I overthought Avril Lavigne, but that's a totally other issue) that I just dislike teenagers because we all used to be them and we all were awful at that age. I know Ms. Diablo didn't intend for her "cleverness" to evoke that response, but to me the dialogue worked better as a comment on myself/our inner or past teenager/our response to teenagers than it did as actual humor.

I'm not sure any of this was clear, so sorry. Love the blog, in any event.

neilshyminsky said...

will wrote:
Even in something like Knocked-Up, where you are supposed to understand the Rogen character's anxiety/conflict about self-actualization, there's still a sense of You-Gotta-Love-These-Guys! that abounds. Whereas here, it's exposed as kind of creepy and sad.

This was my main criticism of the Rogen characters in Knocked Up and Superbad, of course: the women they fall in love with are too good for them, and I can't for the life of me understand why they would be interested in the dopey, inconsiderate guys that fell for them. Bateman's character in this film has a lot more going for him, but is made to seem much less desirble - creepy, even. And I like that too.