Juno: Ghost World + Little Miss Sunshine x Wes Anderson divided by Welcome To the Dollhouse

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 8, 2008 10:14am | Post a Comment
Oh my blog, so, I like totally watched Juno the other night, Lite Brite, and now I totally can’t stop, you know, parlaying this guey. “Por k, Macy Gray?” you query. Welp, homeslice, it’s B-cuz I have had mine eyes opened when to the real deal Holyfield about how to rap like the post-tweens of today, OKizzle? Now normally I avoid quirk ‘n’ smirk like a bubble boy does a peanut butter factory; especially when it's strained, smug, masturbatory, self-worshipping and as heavy handed as Fisto holding a purse full of lead weights. Homie don’t play that, Krazy Kat. And from the trailers alone I was scared merdeless. A familiarly precocious kid has it all figured out like a pint-size Paul Haggis on shrooms. But then she finds out, in a major league curve ball, she’s still got more growin’ up to do, Mr. Magoo.

Cue an annoying Kimya Dawson (Moldy Peaches) song where she busts out with her urban-outfitted, practiced and studied amateurism. OK, we know it’s Indie Anna Jones when we’re confronted, finalmente gente, with the smiling visages of big Hollywood actors, since Indie film is like, totally like “alternative” was when that term went from meaning anything not on commercial radio from Husker Du to Husker Don't to specifically proto-Creed band whose singers yarl and show off their abs-of-steel whilst a creepy, masked, old geezer lurches around in a red and green-lit video that’s played in heavy rotation on empMTyV. Indie is now actually slightly more formulaic than Bollywood, nay, Nollywood.

”Lieben meine Affe-monkey!”

The story is about a 16-year-old Canuck who gets pregnant by her Canuck friend and then finds a couple to adopt her baby after a Canuck at the abortion clinic tells her in thickly-accented Canadian, “All babies want to be born.” Their Canada talk is never explained, I’m guessing because the actors had to devote most of their ability to contorting their brains around the graceless and over-written dialog. It kind of gives it a Degrassi High on Growth-Hormones feel -- only 1000 times more annoying. Only Juno’s dad seems passably Minnesotan. It’s also obviously filmed nowhere near Minnesota but that sort of authenticity rides Miss Daisy-style to the chauffeur/plot that's too busy stroking its "beef sword" (to borrow another barf-inducing Juno-ism) to deal with such obvious details.

Each character has one defining trait and then goes through a robotic transformation exactly one time. This passes for characterization and development, and I was totally bummed by some of the twists and the turns. In some Buñuelian perversion, one of the main characters who seems, like, totally cool turns out to be a total douche, which just depressed me partially because it came across like it was intended to be a revelatory shock but had me saying, "Oh God. Please say it's not going there" -- not because I used my C.S.I. Hollywood skills -- but because every twist is broadcast with wig-splitting obviousness.

Somehow Michael Cera is surprisingly likable playing the only role he's ever asked to play -- the familiar celluloid dork who is supposed to be an outsider but who in reality dresses like a bridge-and-tunnel hipster dressed up for a night of peacockery in Echo Park ... and make you want to call the Redneck Squad. The parents seem dorky but they're ok, it turns out. In fact, they don’t seem especially emotional in any way (no one does), accepting without any sort of anger Bleeker, the broham who's impregnated their daughter and all. In fact, the stepmom steps up to the ultrasound technician in a rant that's supposed to be revelatory but is just embarrassing. Jennifer Garner is the only surprise. Her character is set up as a soul-crushing square with clichéd suburban instincts. The joke about shades of yellow for the nursery seems like a woman-hating gag from a Carl's Jr ad. But she ends up soliciting the most sympathy in the least self-conscious performance.

The film, built on so little, is padded out to feature-length by sticking in an avalanche of references to the point where it’s like someone reading a thirty-something’s Facebook profile more than watching a movie. Juno and her best friend Leah talk in an annoying patois wherein they trip over themselves trying to out-clever each other. It’s like they cannibalized the girls from Ghost World and then shat out the charm and buried it behind Todd Solondz's house. The film represents the recycling of better films it borrows from without adding anything even remotely original or redeeming. In ten years, CGI cartoon animals will be talking like Juno in Dreamworks movies, allowing them to finally retire “Talk to the paw” and “Don’t go there!”

In 20 years Juno will be regarded like Love Story, Beat Girl or High School Confidential -- viewed with a mixture of embarrassment and ironic amusement at some Normal's failed attempt to capture hipness.

The dialog is annoying. But just to make things worse, there are pointless voice-overs offering and illustrating pseudo-profundities like, “Jocks always go for the goth types who play cellos.” Thanks for the heads-up and keep listening to Garrison Keillor and that Dan Le Sav Vs Scroobius Pip song, genius. Another cringe-inducing scene cuts away to images of bands and we’re just awkwardly and point-blank told to check out: The Stooges, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and the Runaways. It’s like being cornered by a smarmy R.A. or an assistant-manager from the Burbank Hot Topic trying to get in your pants. Again, thanks for the Q*Tip! Juno and a hip, older guy played by Jason Bateman squeeze in a film discussion to cover as many referential bases as possible. Hearing them debate H.G. Lewis versus Dario Argento is like watching Kevin Smith courteously give Quentin Tarantino a reacharound. Did you ever, just for lolz, watch Full House, where that little troll doll played by the Olsen Twins would put on sunglasses, flip da cap to da back and say, “Radical dude?” Did you ROTFL? If you did, then this flick is right up your Ally McBeal, Shaquille O’Neal. On the other hand, if you got all Nicolas Cage in 8mm squirming and sweating then you might want to turn any chances to see it, Downtown Julie Brown.

The only clever thing about the references is that while they’re all so safe, so market-researched, so infallible and universally accepted, they’re presented in a way designed to make the viewers (including Conservatives Who Cuss™ and the geriatric Academy Awards Judges -- *poke* *poke*) feel like they’re in a secret society of hipper-than-thou smugholios because they’re down with Poochy-D. It’s like pretending that McDonald’s is you and your friendsters' secret discovery that you worry Chowhound will blow wide open. Juno has a hamburger phone. We see this. She also tells someone during a conversation on said hamburger phone lest we miss what’s shoved in our face. Juno is like the unholy love child born from Veronica Mars getting D.P.ed by Dennis Miller and Scrappy-Don’t.

The first hour I seriously thought I was going to have to turn it off. My fingers were dug into the arms of the couch and my posture was rigid. It was like that clip in TV Carnage’s “Sore For Sighted Eyes” where they’ve edited it to make it look like John Ritter is watching Rosie O’Donnell do Down's syndrome in “Riding On the Bus With My Sister.” But I'm too legit to quit. Thankfully, Juno drops some of the annoying speech mannerisms when it’s time for the waterworks. Even though the film moves gracelessly back and forth between the comedy and drama mixture of dramedy, it grows so much more bearable towards the end as the jokes finally slow down that the improvement is kind of shocking. It’s such a Rolaids moment that it’s actually sort of enjoyable but it involves so much suffering to get there that I would've thought that the writer was a cenobite if I hadn’t already read that she’s a stripper. However, the shift in tone seemingly isn’t so much a reflection of deepening meaning as the writer's awareness that when it's tear time, the jokes get in the way of genuine emotions, so she kind of steps back and lets the viewer fill in the rest, which works if you're a love-worshiping wuss like me. I'm not sure it's really worth the effort, though, unless your Bob Flanagan. But, my hostess, the esteemed Ngoc-Thu Thi Nguyen, though normally hand-in-glove, liked it a good deal more, so take my ambivalence with a grain of Maggi.

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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Teensploitation (2), Indie Film (4), Highschool Do-over Fantasy (1), Juno (3), Redneck Squad (2), Movie Reviews (11), Ngoc-thu Thi Nguyen (26)