Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Unreality of Juno

I liked Juno, more than I thought I would. In a strong year for movies, I don't think it should be a Best Picture nominee, but it was enjoyable. One irritating theme in coverage of the movie, though, has been how real the title character is. NPR said that Juno "comes across like a real kid, the type seen in high schools but not often in the movies." Ellen Page, the actress who plays Juno, has said herself on numerous occasions that the authenticity of the character is what led her to it. I thought Page was affecting, but the movie (and her performance) greatly benefited from the second half's increased focus on other characters. That's because Juno, as written, is a bit ridiculous.

Over at Pretty to Think So, Mrs. White, a teacher who often writes eloquently about her work, puts it bluntly: "Juno is a completely unrealistic sixteen-year-old girl." And she fleshes out the argument by drawing on her own experience:
Since we're only sixteen for one short year of our lives it's easy to forget what the experience was truly like, but having spent the better part of the past seven years with them, I know of sixteen-year-old girls. And not just in a classroom; I've logged plenty of hours with them in their natural state. I've wandered through myriad cities with them, stayed in hotels with them, endured day-long bus trips and airplane flights with them, played games, watched movies, gone shopping and gossiped with them, and counseled them on every imaginable aspect of their drama-filled lives. I know them. And not just for one year - I see sixteen-year-olds every year. They may forget what they were like, but on my end there's a revolving door of them to serve as a constant reminder.

From where I stand, rather than creating a truly believable protagonist, Diablo Cody created the sixteen-year-old girl we all wish we could have been - one who is sharp, composed, rational, witty, independent and in control. But you know what? That's not real. At least, not to be all these things at such a young, awkward age. In the character of Juno, Cody created the girl we all wished we could have been; however, this girl is, unfortunately, a fantasy, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn't get past that.

8 Comments:

Blogger Kraig said...

While some of Juno's dialog is definitely "writerish," I think the whole issue of her character's authenticity is a bit of a non-starter. It's ONE person. ONE character. Good characters, at least the ones who remain in our memories long after we've seen a movie, are memorable because they're different by and large. All you need to believe is that someone like Juno COULD exist, not that she's a representative sample of 16-year-old girls. She's obviously not. But questions about her character's realism, or any character's realism for that matter, only matter if that's the writer's intention. Juno is written as an especially precocious teenager, and those DO exist. She's written as someone who has a high level of self awareness. Someone who looks for the clever response--and often has it. I've spent a good deal of time around young girls, too (man, that sounds bad), and yeah, most of them are nothing like Juno. But they aren't as interesting as Juno, so why would I want to see a movie about girls who look and act like Paris Hilton? Mrs. White has a unique vantage point so it's understandable why she'd have an especially hard time getting past Juno's characterization, but it might be best if you just look at Juno as a one in a million-type character. And those are the characters which make for the most interesting movies, I should think.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with Mrs. White more. I spent several years tutoring high school girls and none of them are anything like that. The character is what a 35 year old woman who's lived for 10 year is LA would talk like if she could go back and live high school again. What saved the movie was its last half--not only because, as you point out the focus shifted to other characters. In the last half, we saw Page finally shed the self-assured, sharp-tongued badass pose and admit to her fear and insecurities--to act, in other words, like a real 16 year-old. For her, that meant admitting to her love for Cera's character. I found the scene of them sleeping together in the hospital bed one of the movie's best, second only to the one the track when she confesses loving him. (Best line of dialogue: "I try so hard.")

Good work, ASWOBA.

-Tim

1:41 AM  
Blogger Mrs. White said...

Tim, I couldn't agree more regarding the second half of the film. That scene in the hospital bed is when she finally became a real person to me, and I think it saved the film.

6:45 AM  
Anonymous Josh said...

Thundercats.

11:22 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

The scene in the hospital bed was incredibly moving, and the scene where he says he tries so hard was sweet, sweet, sweet. I'm on the side of Tim and Mrs. White here, obviously.

Kraig, I agree with you, but as I said to someone else yesterday, it's hard not to start responding to how others are reacting to the movie. And a lot of the reaction to is has centered around the "realness" of Juno. Like Tim says, I think that realness comes through in the second half. In the first half, I found her unrealistic in a silly, sitcom-y way.

11:57 AM  
Blogger Kraig said...

Well, on that point I can agree. I'd be opposed to any critic who trumpeted Juno as a "real" character, almost as much as I'd be opposed to someone who suggests it's an inauthentic character. It just shouldn't be an issue in either direction, in my opinion.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Longrie said...

This is exactly how I felt leaving the theatre. I, too, was very surprised to see it so highly nominated.

9:36 PM  
Blogger Fox said...

I find this conversation fascinating. What I find most interesting is why this film has generated such attention. My theory is that expectations got out of whack. This is Diablo Cody's very first screenplay, and most of the complaints lead straight back to that fact. To the films credit (and probably the second most important reason the film was made) it has a unique premise, full of interest and covering some territory not usually traveled. That does not save the film from suffering from mediocre writing. There are structural problems, like the fact that the story takes too long to “get going”, or that the second half “saves” the film. There are also overwritten scenes, unneeded repetition, and, one could argue, an overwritten character in the title role. These are all problems to be expected in the early stages of a writer’s career, until she hones her craft. To my knowledge Cody has no background in theatre or film in any formal sense. The primary reason why this film (probably) was made is that Diablo Cody is riding a wave of populism. A stripper for a year who blogs her way into a publishing deal, and then turns her pen toward the cinema cannot be ignored by those people who know how to market. Writing aside, it was a fun film, pleasant and cute, with a few poignant moments, but I agree with the several of you who scratch their heads wondering why it is getting sooooo much attention.

12:18 AM  

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