Juno what your problem is?

This evening I'll be attending a screening of Juno. I also attended a screening on Tuesday. Now, don't get the wrong idea. I didn't love the film so much that I had to see it twice. The free screenings downtown filled up entirely too quick, so tonight I'll be seeing it with the bf and couple friends.
So here's my thoughts on the film. I guess my initial impression is that it is a very uneven film. The dialogue and the actions are working against the cloying direction (and especially art direction). The director, Jason Reitman, who so masterfully navigated Thank You For Smoking, gets really trapped in this film. The two times he uses cutaways to illustrate what a character is talking about is jarring and out of place. Early in the film, he uses a close up of the title character whispering into her boyfriend's ear. The shot isn't the best composition, but it works nicely with what the characters are saying. These extreme close ups recur throughout the film and each time they feel more claustrophobic and compositionally haphazard. He needs to learn to pull his camera away from his subjects and let them interact with their environments.
To claim that Ellen Page "owns her character" is equivalent to saying that a charcoal sketch has as much color as a pastel drawing. Juno is a sketch of a character with more interesting characters floating around her. There is talk of the delicate balance necessary of portraying a 16 year-old girl. At times she is childlike, and other times she seems like a grown woman. Wow, so she's just like a 16 year-old girl. The role itself, in my opinion, doesn't have enough meat on it to merit the kudos she has recieved. All it really has going for it is snappy, of-the-moment dialogue that will sound dated by the end of the year.
The supporting roles are much more interesting. Most notably, Jennifer Garner stood out for me. She has never been so nuanced and focused in a role. The scene in the mall where she talks to Juno's belly is at once sweet and heartbreaking. Her desire is palpable and the truly emotional impact of the film comes from her character. Also Jason Bateman is quite good. His reaction shots, which were perfected in Arrested Developement, garnered (ha!) more laughs than much of the dialogue. Allison Janney and JK Simmons also do great turns as the stepmother and father of Juno. They are the types of actors who are given sketches (to continue a theme) and flesh out real people from them. While they don't have the most screen time, they do quite well with what they are given. Olivia Thrilby also deserves some recognition as Juno's best friend, Leah. Instead of feeling like a sidekick, she feels like someone who has grown up knowing Juno's family and is an extension of that family. And finally, Michael Cera. As always, he plays the straight man to all the zaniness that is occuring around him; unfortunately, the costume designers have decided to zany him up as well so just looking at him becomes a joke. Its just one of the many travesties that the art directors made on the film (see also: a sign at a track meet that reads, "Go Manatees"). Cera however outshines the missteps and plays the yin to Page's yang quite comedically.
Now, onto my final critique. The music. Yes, the soundtrack kicks ass in that twee, too-precious-for-words kinda way. However, it couldn't be worse music for the film. The name of the film is Juno, and she tells us how much she loves the Ramones and the Stooges and Runaways, but instead of hearing her soundtrack, we get a Pitchfork sampler that spans all the way back to the late 90's. I like the music, but its just in the wrong film.
So, I liked the film. It kept me entertained, but its not nearly as good as I had hoped.


Reel Fanatic said...

Well, you were certainly harder on this one than I was ... I think perhaps my expectations just let me give Reitman a pass on the directing, cause I was just so busy smiling laughing that I didn't notice many of the cloying touches you mentioned ... And as to the music, I agree that it didn't fit Juno's persona, but the sweet nature of Kimya Dawson's songs (I ordered her latest CD after seeing the movie, if the damn thing ever comes in the mail) just fit the over all tone of the movie perfectly

jeremy said...

Well, I saw it a second time--and I feel pretty much the same way about it. Except the music irritated me just that much more this time. It never stops! It goes from one saccharine song to the next--and some of them are just so out of place, like the Belle and Sebastian one.
Also, my take on the setups felt true, as well. The people don't live in these environments--these are places that are meant to be art directed and lived in front of, not lived in. I really wanted some variety in shots here and just didn't get.
Plus, that opening scene with Rainn Wilson is just plain ol' bad.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the writing. It was WAY overwritten. Much too cutesy in a "people aren't like this in ANY NORMAL WAY". The music being out of place didn't bother me, except I've always had a love/hate relationship with Kimya Dawson. She, too, is way overwritten and too hipster to be relatable.