So last night i saw Juno, the buzz-gathering Quirky Indie hit of the season, the one written by a tattooed erstwhile (hipster) stripper named “Diablo Cody,” and concerning a 16-year-old alterna-chick who gets charmingly heavy with child. (The title character is played by rising star Ellen Page; much of what they’re saying about Page is true.) The movie made me really mad. I’m going to tell you why.
So, earlier this year, certain right-thinking people got all up in Knocked Up‘s business for what they perceived as the movie’s cowardly and implicitly conservative sidestep of the abortion issue. I didn’t mind, personally: I accept that there are any number of reasons why even the most liberal woman would choose to live with even the most life-derailing pregnancy (and, you know, child); it’s a frightening choice that no one feels comfortable making and there you go. The Voice‘s great Nathan Lee jumped on Juno, too, describing it as “about how totally hilarious and super-sweet it is for a 16-year-old high-school girl not to have an abortion.” (Emphasis, as always, his.) But again, though, I guess I don’t feel like the decision to get an abortion is necessarily politicized. (Or, at least, it ought not to be, in a tolerant and progressive country where a safe and not infrequently necessary medical procedure is, you not, not in danger of being outlawed.) I do have problems with Juno‘s abortion clinic scene, though, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit.
But Knocked Up at least took the time to explain how their unwanted pregnancy came about. This is not the case with Juno. Um, how come she and her sorta-boyfriend didn’t just use a condom?
Oh, right. Because there’d be no movie if they had. Then I’ll rephrase. How come nobody — NOBODY — asks her why not? Practically every scene in at least the first twenty minutes of the movie would seem to beg the question. In a movie that slings words around like Juno does, it would have taken two lines of dialogue, tops, to provide an answer: to explain how a smart, noncomformist (in the progressive sense, seemingly) kid managed to not spare a thought on the subject. Lazier scripts — especially moralizing ones for teen-centered TV shows — tend to jump right from sex to pregnancy. Juno and its ilk exist in a world where any kind of sex education is an alien concept. The implied understanding is that teenagers don’t think at all about how to be smart about sex — which reinforces a completely inaccruate perception, one that happens to be the abstinence-or-bust contingent’s first, last, and only argument. Right, I get that there’s no movie without the pregnancy, and, in principle at least, I want there to be a movie. Just… try to be a little less erroneous and regressive? Give me a throwaway line about how nobody told them those novelty condoms that look like tape measures don’t actually protect against conception. Or something. Anything. Gah.
Anyway, now that we’re pregnant, let’s look at that abortion clinic scene. It’s the first really noticeable example of Juno‘s hipster-stroking bait-and-switch conservatism. At first, we laugh at the solitary picketer, a nerdily bespectacled Asian girl earnestly sloganeering in broken English. So right-minded people everywhere get to have a big laugh at how dumb and cloistered (rather than dumb, arrogant and dangerous) the anti-abortion crowd is — and while we’re chuckling to ourselves, whoops, turns out Juno, good as she is at heart, gets cold feet about the whole baby-killing thing.
The other really egregious example of this that I can think of is the adoptive parents Juno picks out for her bundle of plot convenience: an aging hipster played by Jason Bateman, and a freakily composed career woman played by Jennifer Garner. At first, we’re supposed to get a good laugh at Garner’s baby lust and yuppie materialism (she comes home with bags upon bags on baby stuff). Until, that is, it turns out that she’s actually, in her own way, a natural and naturally loving mother — while her husband with the initially sympathetic cool-kid taste turns out to be pathetic, immature, and more concerned with his own hip quotient than the people he loves. (More to the point, his ambivalence about fatherhood is eventually recast as cowardice and the selfish pursuit of pointless dream of artistic success. This in a movie scripted by a childless woman who started writing professionally in her mid-to-late 20s. Jesus H. Motherhumping Christ on a crutch.)
Not that the movie isn’t pretty concerned with appearing cool, too. Get ready for shoehorned-in name-drops of Sonic Youth, the Melvins, the Runaways, Suspiria, etc. Are we supposed to be impressed with the taste the characters flaunt, or nod sympathetically as they learn there’s more to life than that? Put another way: are we being congratulated for our taste, or condemned for it?
Although the soundtrack, aptly described by the L’s Nic Rapold as a “twee apocalypse,” bears precious little resemblance to Juno’s avowed preference for “the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges.” Belle and Sebastian is about as close as it gets, actually. Jason Reitman, who directed it, goes for cute, with his song choices and animated opening credits and ironic-kitsch visual nonsequiturs.
Yep, Reitman’s taken a little movie and turned it into a Little Movie That Could. Juno is, basically, a first-time script written around a built-up-over-the-course-of-several-years Word doc collecting stray lines of zingy dialogue, fleshed out with characterization-by-quirk (likes tic-tacs! likes dogs! hot for teacher!), and delivered with great facility by a very appealing cast. But between The Ballad of Diablo Cody, the “edgy” subject matter, and the “indie” attitude, it’s been turned into a limited-release juggernaut, complete with “sleeper” Oscar buzz.
And now this movie has my money. Fuck.