So I’m really late to the party on this one. My head has been in a hole or something.
I was listening to NPR recently and Terri Gross introduced an interview with the director and writer of Juno, a film I had no plans to see based on the painstakingly quirky promos for the film. But when Terri mentioned the writer’s name–Diablo Cody–I did a double-take and said wait, where do I know that name from? Then she introduced Cody as being a former blog-writer, her former blog being that of her life as a stripper. And ding! I remembered her. I used to read her blog every day, back in the day. She was a full-on peep show girl as I recall, performing for peepers. PussyRanch, her blog was called, and she had what seemed a strangely…wholesome? attitude about it. Straightforward, unabashed, unconflicted, even cheery. Indeed, so do all of the characters in Juno, with regard to teen pregnancy. Depth and complexity is clearly not Ms. Cody’s strong suit. But hey, it’s a comedy, right?
Anyway after learning who was the writer I was slightly more interested in seeing the film (though only slightly–she uses a burgerphone for chrisssakes), to see what this blogger I used to follow is now up to. I recall that her blog-writing was always a bit irritating in the same way as the film’s dialogue–showoffy, incapable of speaking plainly; ‘more is more’ is definitely Cody’s word-choice strategy. (From Reverse Shot: “It reminds me of Kingsley Amis’s criticism of his son Martin’s prose: “I think you need more sentences like ‘He put down his drink, got up, and left the room.’”)
But seeking solace from holiday family meltdowns the other day, I ducked into the AFI theater for a matinee of Juno. I didn’t plan to see it, but Sweeney Todd wasn’t screening for another 2 hours so Juno it was.
And the film was pretty much as I expected, though not quite as irritating as I’d feared. The dialogue was definitely too much, and Cody suffers from the Seinfeld syndrome of making every character speak exactly the same way. The quirkiniess wouldn’t have been so irritating if it were limited to only the character of Juno, but no, Ms. Cody can’t control herself and every other character in the film speaks in the same patterns–her dad, her friends, the store clerk that sells her the pregnancy test. Apparently no one in this town is familiar with verbal restraint.
Also a bit irritating is that the film seems to have hoodwinked a lot of people, selling itself as different or “alternative” when in fact it’s a quite wholesome feel-gooder and even a fairly conservative film. It’s Jimmy Stewart dressed in Chuck Taylors and a hoodie.
“For all its posturing as a take-no-guff whippersnapper, “Juno” is finally a square, predictable crowd-pleaser, timid on politics and reaffirming on family. Juno is identified as oddball and independent (she obnoxiously uses pipes as affectations and enjoys mentioning her plastic hamburger phone, and Bleeker’s mom pointedly says, as if to confirm it for the audience, “She’s just . . . different”), but she’s not much more interesting than your average big-screen high-schooler, and when she has questions about life and love, she goes to wise papa (JK Simmons), “Brady Bunch”-style. Is this seriously supposed to be different from Hollywood teen movies simply because it’s not about cheerleaders?”
She does, after all, get convinced by an abortion protester to keep her baby. But that’s kind of a cheap shot–is every teenager who doesn’t abort and gives her kid up for adoption in bed with the right wingers? Is abortion the only liberal route? It’s supposed to be about choice, not mandatory abortions for all, right? And in some ways the film is actually a bit subversive–the complete absence of shame, for example. Juno’s not happy about the pregnancy but she’s not going to hide in a hole and flagellate herself, either. No one in her town save the (narrative prop of a) ultrasound technician shows much judgement toward her at all. That’s not the American way. And it’s certainly not the Christian Right way. She also ultimately gives the child to a single, divorced woman to raise–Cody didn’t write a reconciliation into the couple’s ending in order to preserve conservative family values.
In the end the film is neither conservative nor progressive, but apolitical–life is messy and Juno makes decisions based on gut feelings, moment to moment, outside any overarching political agendas. Individual autonomy/expression is the guiding light here…it’s Jimmy Stewart in Chuck Taylors and a hoodie, after all.