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Juno

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/11/07 04:47:14

"Is to clever dialogue what Hot Topic is to authentic punk fashion."
1 stars (Total Crap)

Here’s the problem I have with Diablo Cody: she seems like the kind of hipster who not only uses a vintage lunch box for a purse, but, more importantly, insists you know she uses a vintage lunch box as a purse. Her screenwriting debut, the alt-chick teen pregnancy dramedy “Juno,” is overloaded with clumsy pop culture references and sloppy monologues about obscure indie-culture darlings that it plays less like an actual story and more like a checklist of cool things Cody knows exists. This movie is one big sweaty poseur-palooza. It’s a vintage lunch box purse, with nothing in it.

It may seem unfair to burden Cody with all of the film’s failures, but who else is to blame? The cast is competent enough, doing their best to wrap their tongues around the awkward, self-aware insta-quotes that pass for dialogue. Director Jason Reitman, who shows much promise with “Thank You for Smoking,” becomes surprisingly anonymous here, content to let the script be the only real style in play. Other things, like the self-conscious set design and grating indie-folk soundtrack choices, are so fakey-quaint (a hamburger phone? really??) that one assumes they were demanded by the script itself. As such, Cody’s writing becomes the overwhelming singular voice (more of a high pitch squeal, really) that all fault for the movie’s colossal mistakes belong entirely to her.

The film is a sarcastic look at accidental teen pregnancy, with the impossibly named Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) finding herself in the family way after a one-shot fling with best friend Bleeker (Michael Cera, adding such sincerity and emotional honesty to his barely-there role that his character feels on loan from another, far better movie). She handles it the way all sixteen-year-old girls do: she cracks wise and blows it off like it’s no more a social hiccup than a pimple.

Now, I suppose Juno’s flippancy is meant to reveal a meaningful character flaw, a young woman incapable of truly expressing her fears, relying on ill-timed comedy schtick as a defense mechanism. But the screenplay dumps so much importance on Juno’s every above-it-all word that this sort of emotion never peeks through. Instead, we get a celebration of a self-absorbed twit incapable of mature thought - she makes jokes while talking on an abortion hotline; she freely insults the lawyer handling her adoption case.

The film’s defenders (of which there are depressingly many) will counter than Juno’s third act change of pace, in which she tones down the glib commentary, is intended to show the character growing up, a stark contrast to the blabbermouth teen with no brain-to-mouth filter. But this comes too late and feels like an afterthought.

Like almost everything in “Juno,” her eventual maturity is not examined beyond the most shallowest of levels. Consider Juno’s original decision to get an abortion. Here we have a chance to watch a character struggle to make an impossible decision. There could even be room for comedy, as smart humorists are able to find laughter in even the bleakest of life’s moments. Cody, however, rushes through the entire plot point, offering up pointless caricatures before moving on. It’s as if Cody knows we won’t have a movie without Juno’s decision to deliver the baby, so we might as well plow through any obstacles to get there.

Juno finds a nice, respectable young couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) who wants to adopt her child. In Garner’s performance as an uptight yuppie yearning for a motherhood she can’t achieve on her own, the script wants to have it both ways: first it mocks her upper-middle-class lifestyle as being laughably square, and then it tries to lend warmth to the character in an attempt to show how open-minded Cody can be. “Look! I can be nice to yuppies in my stories! Aren’t I progressive?”

As the yuppie’s put-upon husband, Bateman’s character exists merely for clothesline purposes, where Cody can place an endless supply of hipster references. He’s a ex-rocker, you see, so he knows all about all the cool bands and comic books and old school splatter movies. In one embarrassing scene, the husband and Juno spend an eternity name-checking classic punk bands and rare grunge-era alt-rock compilation CDs, a discussion which flows into a monologue comparing Dario Argento and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Not once does the scene feel legitimate, or even necessary, yet it’s here, simply because Cody wanted to scream at us to let us know all the things she knows about in the hopes we think that makes her cool. It’s pretty sad, actually.

And that’s what “Juno” is. There are no characters here, only one-dimensional puppets spewing Cody’s amateurish interpretation of “Heathers”-by-way-of-Joss Whedon dialogue. (Dear lord, is anything more putrid than third-rate Joss Whedon?) Emotional depth is absent until it’s far too late, and then we get dumped on with a great big pile of phony sentiment, a bad English major’s attempt at human drama. It’s a screenplay that falls apart upon even the slightest scrutiny, with Thundercats jokes passing for cleverness, cheap irony passing for artistic merit, shallow wordiness passing for literary genius.

It’s a movie that’s begging to be noticed, so much so that at times, its sweaty desperation can be viewed as a dare: walk away while you still can. Like the early scene featuring Rainn Wilson as a smarmy convenience store clerk who actually says things like “That's one doodle that can't be un-did, home skillet.” It’s the single worst moment in a movie this year, and we still have eighty minutes to go. And many of those minutes involve hamburger phones.

Sigh. What a hideous piece of faux-hipster crap.

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