The highly-acclaimed Juno is up for several awards, among them Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Actress and Writing—the very same categories it occupies as a nominee in the Independent Spirit Awards. The only honor it deserves is one that doesn’t exist: Phoniest Movie of 2007. The script, by Diablo Cody, is almost as horrendous as its writer’s pen name: none of its characters are remotely believable; instead, they’re just quirkiness incarnate. It’s an unholy marriage of the worst of indie-film snarkiness, “Family Guy”-paced reference slinging, and treacle.
The first third of the movie seems to be a solipsism centered on sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page, whose character’s very name is quirky nonsense). The snarky, sharp-tongued teen gets knocked up by Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) and decides to give her baby up to an older couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). When she meets the surrogate parents, she’s a fount of bizarre, insensitive comments, mostly aimed at Garner’s consummate yuppie, but they might as well have been directed at Margaret Dumont from an old Marx Brothers movie (although the lines would have been far wittier in that); miraculously, Vanessa doesn’t hear or react to a word of Juno’s “zany” antics.
Even worse, Bateman plays an erstwhile grunge rocker, which gives Juno an opportunity to list all of the totally cool music she listens to: a formidable list that includes Patti Smith and The Stooges. The music that’s actually in the movie is neo-folky and somnolent. It reminds me of something Roger Ebert mentioned in his thirtieth anniversary review of The Graduate: the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack in that film (lauded at the time for being trendy and youthful) now seems “safe”—better suited, therefore, for lackadaisical Benjamin than vampy femme infidel Mrs. Robinson. Juno’s tame score, credited to Mateo Messina, seems more reflective of the eponymous teenager than the musical tastes that Cody feeds her. When Juno exuberantly rolls off her favorite bands, it’s nothing but the filmmakers dropping names in order to pick up some free hipster credibility; the whole movie is artificially cool, and thus, truly, deeply square.
Ironically, the square, “poignant” moments were probably those I liked best, but even the most authentic scene was screwed up by the director, Jason Reitman, whose previous feature, Thank You for Smoking, was a paean to inauthenticity. Vanessa is touching Juno’s baby-swollen gut and talking to her future child, but the scene is set in the middle of a shopping mall. You’d think someone would think it strange to see a thirty-five-year-old woman groping a pregnant sixteen-year-old’s stomach.