Legendary film critic Roger Ebert said a few weeks ago that he would consider including Juno in his list of the top 10 movies of all time. As one of Juno’s few outspoken detractors — I’ve trashed Juno offhandedly in numerous reviews of other films for The Hoya — I can’t let this stand. So before I graduate next month, I’d like to explain exactly why I dislike Juno. To clarify, I’m not some kind of negative blowhard who hates all cutesy independent movies: I loveLittle Miss Sunshine, which is often compared to Juno. I don’t have some kind of fanatical political views about abortion which make me hate the film on those grounds. I just specifically dislike Juno. And if you’re an outraged Juno fan who can’t wait to shoot down my criticisms, calm down. I’m not necessarily trying to make value judgments about the film. I’m mostly just saying why I personally don’t like it.
1. Unrealistic and Infuriating Dialogue
The dialogue in many parts of Juno is virtually indistinguishable from the dialogue of Napoleon Dynamite, a movie for 14-year-olds who love arguing about whether pirates are more badass than ninjas. Juno, meanwhile, is widely regarded as a transcendent film by teens and adults alike. Yet in the first few scenes of Juno we hear such gems as: “Shut your frickin’ gob,” “Silencio, old man,”“homeskillet,” and, brutally, “honest to blog.” Admit you’d believe me if I told you that any of those lines came from that new Napoleon Dynamite animated show on Fox. “DO THE CHICKENS HAVE LARGE TALONS?!?!?” Ebert, who evidently hasn’t spoken to someone under 20 since he was under 20, would be shocked to learn that no real young people talk like Juno (Ellen Page) and her friends. No 16-year-old would refer to her own pregnancy as being “up the spout foshizz,” or at least no 16-year-old with friends. Oh, and when Juno’s best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby, whose acting was so atrocious that I considered making it one of the 10 things on this list) finds out Juno is pregnant, she says “Phuket, Thailand” instead of the f-word. First of all, are we meant to believe that 16-year-olds don’t swear, even in situations like this? Also, the “H” in “Phuket” is supposed to be silent. At least the film gets a pronunciation correct later when Juno says “shiitake mushrooms” instead of the s-word. Oh wait, that was Spy Kids. And if Spy Kids correctly pronounces its fake swear words and Junodoesn’t, ipso ergo facto Latino Spy Kids is better than Juno. I rest my case.
2. An Insufferable Soundtrack
I’m guessing at least a third of Juno’s budget was spent on buying microphones sensitive enough to record the quiet-ass voices of these singers. It’s all cutesy piano riffs, upbeat acoustic guitars and unaffected baby-voiced musicians whisper-singing pseudo-romantic nothings. “Here is the church and here is the steeple / We sure are cute for two ugly people.” Shut up Moldy Peaches lady, you don’t actually think you’re ugly. To be fair, I’m not really into this particular kind of music in general, but when combined with a sickly sweet movie like Juno it becomes almost too much to bear.
3. Old Punk Rock Music Isn’t Cool
Again, this is merely a matter of personal preference. Now, many of my best friends back home are obsessed with the same music Juno is. But does that mean I have to like it and think it’s cool? No. Hence I don’t think Juno is cool, and I wasn’t at all moved by the scenes in which sheand Mark (Jason Bateman), the potential adoptive father of her baby, wax poetic about guitars and The Runaway Stooge-Trains or whatever. Patti Smith is your favorite singer? No one gives a shiitake. I don’t even know who the Phuket she is. I feel like Diablo Cody grossly overestimated the proportion of the 2007 teenage movie-going audience who had heard of The Melvins. It’s the 21st century. Who are you, my dad? My grandpa? My great-great-great-great-great-great uncle John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States? Yeah, that’s right. I’m related to him. I’ll be signing autographs in the ICC Galleria from 6 to 9 p.m. next Tuesday.
4. The Hamburger Phone
I’m picking on the hamburger phone because it’s a microcosm of the film’s glaring lack of subtlety. The hamburger phone is supposed to emphasize the contrast between Juno’s young age and the adult situation she’s been thrust into (pun regrettably intended). But juxtaposition has to be subtle to be effective; Juno chooses an obvious dichotomy and proceeds to beat the audience over the head with it, to the point that Juno actually says out loud, “Sorry, I’m on my hamburger phone,” during a call to the abortion clinic. The hamburger phone is hardly the only example of the film’s lack of nuance, and it actually may not be even as egregious as the stale, one-dimensional contrast between cliche, laid-back rocker Mark and his overly uptight wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Vanessa is stressed out by deciding between two seemingly identical colors of paint, while Mark doesn’t care which one they use? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
5. Unnecessary Vilification of Mark
It is immediately obvious from the moment we meet Mark that he doesn’t want a baby. Yes, he probably should’ve explicitly come out and said it before they agreed to adopt Juno’s child, but shouldn’t Vanessa, or anyone, have noticed? It seems like the movie expects us to agree that Mark is the bad guy because he doesn’t want kids, as if everyone in the audience will agree that wanting children is intrinsically morally superior to not wanting children. Also, Mark doesn’t want kids because he hasn’t yet followed his music dreams, for which Vanessa unfairly mocks him. So why isn’t she the bad guy? To be fair, when I watched it again for the purposes of this review, I realized Juno doesn’t vilify Mark nearly as much as I’d remembered. But, if it did, that would be unfair! Uh, what I’m trying to say is, I probably should’ve put Olivia Thirlby’s horrible acting as number five on my list instead. It seems likeThirlby went out of her way to have a random facial expression in each scene regardless of the gravity of its content and to act like she was reading from a teleprompter every time she spoke.
6. Grossly Unfair and Inaccurate Portrayal Of Minnesota and Minnesotans
I’ll let Jake Schindler (SFS ’12), my Minnesotan roommate, take this one: “If Juno were set anywhere else, most viewers would dismiss the dialogue as being awkward and unrealistic. But because it’s Minnesota, I’m afraid people are actually willing to believe that all the hip indie teens at Ridgedale Mall actually talk that way. (By the way, there is nothing hip or indie about Ridgedale, St. Cloud or really anything outside the borders of Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.) We let the Cohen brothers get away with exaggerating our accents and mannerisms because, unlike Diablo Cody, they’re Minnesotans. But Cody was born in suburban Chicago, raised in suburban Chicago and went to school in Iowa. She lived in Minneapolis for a couple of years before bolting to Hollywood. I’m glad she enjoys some of our fine cultural exports such as Sonic Youth, but I’d like to request in the most polite Minnesotan way possible that Ms. Cody set her next awful screenplay somewhere else.
7. Diablo Cody’s Bizarrely Skewed View Of Youths
In a voiceover, Juno says that “popular jocks” secretly love weird girls like her, girls who “play cello, wear horn-rimmed glasses and vegan footwear, read McSweeneys and want to be children’s librarians.” Jocks just pretend to be into hot cheerleaders, you see, because they’re “supposed to be.” Nah, Diablo, I’m pretty sure jocks are actually into hot cheerleaders. This, of course, is far from the only way in which Juno shows us just how little Cody understands young people. There is perhaps no better example of this than when the characters keep saying “like totally.” There’s one short conversation between Leah and Juno where that phrase is said at least three times. Cerebral 16-year-olds such as Juno don’t actually say “like totally,” and every time Juno says it in the film, it feels forced and unnatural. Then again, I doubt Diablo actually has talked with a 16-year-old any time recently.
8. The Dialogue, Again
“Honest to blog?” Really? If someone said that to me, I would like totally bully them or something.
9. The Film Isn’t as Edgy and Subversive as it Thinks it Is
Abortions make for edgy cinema. Not getting an abortion isn’t edgy. Other movies without abortions:Toy Story, Toy Story 3, We Bought a Zoo… this is cold, hard proof of Juno’s unedginess! And if you’re saying, “but it’s not like Juno claims to be edgy or subversive or anything,” director Jason Reitmanhimself has said in an interview that his goal is to make “subversive comedy.” (Incidentally, I lovedReitman’s genuinely subversive film Thank You For Smoking, as well as his masterful Up in the Air, leading me to believe that Cody is the problem here, and not Reitman. Every cringeworthy line in Junoshould merit the same reaction Juno’s father has when talking about Juno and Paulie having sex: “You know it wasn’t his idea.”) There’s nothing subversive about a mostly uneventful teenage pregnancy which doesn’t ruin, or even significantly damage, anyone’s life (except for the baby’s life, as it will have to grow up with an extremely uptight adoptive mother who mocks people for following their dreams). It’s only subversive in that it overthrows the traditional narrative of unplanned teen pregnancy as something complex and life-changing, instead painting it as a cute and minor nuisance. Something tells me this isn’t the kind of subversion Reitman had in mind.
10. Everyone Else Likes It
This is what you suspected my motivation was all along. And you were right. In my defense, admit it’s pretty cool to hate stuff that everyone else likes. Catch you on the flippity-flop side, homeskillets!