From Diablo Cody's script to Juno, which I reread yesterday in a weak moment:
INT. LORING HOUSE - MARK’S SPECIAL ROOM - DAY
Mark is seated at the computer, surfing a horror movie
website. He has the blank expression of a bored obsessive.
The doorbell rings.
'The blank expression of a bored obsessive.' That hurt, even more than remembering Cody won the Oscar for Juno.
I'm that way with blogs and RPG rulebooks. They don't give me nearly as much pleasure as you'd think, given the amount of time I pay in. Why do I bother? Why do I read The Valve, for instance, when I'm irritated by nine out of every ten posts? Why read Grognardia when the subject line and illustration alone are almost invariably enough to tell me what the guy's gonna say? (Most politics blogs fail for the same reason.) If I know I don't want anything in particular from Pandemonium Books & Games, why walk in and allow my buying compulsion free reign? (For that matter, what difference does my conscious desire make?)
I know I'm a slave to very strong desires, the satisfaction of which gives me no pleasure. I know I'm precisely the 'bored obsessive' mentioned in the scene. Man, I didn't care one way or the other about Juno screenplay, I just happened upon it in my ~/Downloads folder; the description of Mark's expression hit me so hard precisely because I was wearing it as I read!
Why are my healthy habits so much harder to keep up than my destructive ones?
OK, so let's indulge my defense mechanisms and talk about what's wrong with Juno, because why else would I have a blog? Why would anyone?
The problem with Juno is precisely that it's a clever bit of writing. The dialogue's stagey and self-conscious in an adolescent way, the characters are largely one-dimensional, Cody substitutes cutesy affectation for real individuality (e.g. specifying Juno's brand of lip balm - 'Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker' - instead of, say, exploring what in the world she and her insufferable one-dimensional best friend actually have in common or what could possibly motivate their relationship), etc., etc. But those problems do seem to share DNA with the film's writerly success, which is that its whisper-thin pregnancy narrative is primarily a smokescreen for the film's double-headed story about (1) Juno and Bleeker's obviously-perfect-for-eachother romantic wish fulfillment, and (2) how being a grownup is more complicated than the smug, self-satisfied, ignorant
Mary Sue Juno can possibly understand, even though in the end her naïve fantasies are encouraged by the people around her who know better.
So Juno's pregnancy acts as metaphorical misdirection; its main function is gonna be to pull her closer to her Miraculous Boyfriend, Cody's Y-chromosomal take on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl beloved of indie film jerks everywhere. (Hello Garden State. Hello Amelie. Hello, ironically, Fight Club.) But the relationship between the two is more suggested than depicted, in strokes so broad they start to look like handwaving. In fact the film's dual climax begins with Juno's realization that she loves Paulie, an epiphany so dramatically unmotivated that she must explain her feelings at excruciating length and cuteness in the scene at track practice (page 102 in the shooting script, for those reading along at home).
The actors in Juno also do incredible work, turning delicious lines into something like human communication. Jennifer Garner is so heartbreaking as Vanessa that you forget that her job in the film is to be a perfect angel for Juno to Recognize Afresh, in Dramatic Fashion. The role of Mark is a nice little turnabout - he's a jerk who's arguably doing the right thing by leaving Vanessa, maybe, and Cody's nonjudgmental style works well in his scenes. But there's not much of a story there, and it veers out of believability. (The first guitar-nerd scene is wholly out of place and wrong - a farcical intrusion into a realistically-scaled sequence and story.) And Michael Cera is obviously skilled at playing, in essence, the only part he's played as an adult - so skilled that you forget to be annoyed at how thin and artificial the role is. The adults around Juno are fantastic, Ellen Page is spectacular, and Jason Reitman helps everyone do a convincing imitation of life in the midst of this maddening, hermetic plot.
But it all feels like an achievement - or rather, like we're obligated to call it one, like a script and a film begging for attention. The character of Rollo the store clerk (page 2!) is the script's most obvious misstep:
This is your third test today, Mama Bear. Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it!
You’re not a lion in a pride! (to himself:) These kids, acting like lions with their unplanned pregnancies and their Sunny Delights.
That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet.
Rollo's not a person, of course, he's a Push Button To Enjoy One Line of Diablo Cody Dialogue! machine. Cody might well know someone who speaks like this, but it doesn't matter; 'believability' is not strictly a function of concordance-with-reality, it's a measure of dramatic coherence and contiguity. Rollo isn't believable even if his dialogue was dictated by Cody's local 7-11 worker. His function in the drama is actually impaired by his relentless zing! and zip! and yuk-yuk-yuk! Casting (the spectacularly funny) Rainn Wilson in the role was a misstep, I think; he's so weird-looking, and the design and art direction in his scene are so obsessively quirky, that their ironic function (contrast w/the seriousness of Juno's task, i.e. pregnancy testing) gets lost. Cody is so busy tap-dancing across the surface of her Big Indie Topic that she manages to deflate it into one more element of the script's all-consuming Cody-ness.
Well, there's your problem. The cost of Juno's neat tricks, particularly its coming-of-age misdirection, is that its powerful human moments (the note on the wall! Vanessa and her bassinet!) can only float along in parallel with its endless quippery and twee-teen self-satisfaction. They don't seem to come from a unified human impulse. Juno's empathy is schematic but its condescension feels absolutely lived-in and real; it's a hostile film (and script), dripping with contempt that its let's-get-together message can't obliterate or outbalance. I wish I could say this was surprising, but mainly it's deflating and familiar. After all, it's the sad loners (like Juno herself) who harbor the darkest anger, and the contemptuous 'norms' who feel the deepest sadness. The script again, page 94:
Bleeker and Juno KISS, oblivious to the gawking track team guys in the background.
In the distance, near the school entrance, we see STEVE RENDAZO (the kid who always TORMENTS Juno) regarding the makeout session with a sad, envious expression.
I think Cody really believed she was just paying off a joke here (the setup is on page 11: 'The funny thing is that Steve Rendazo secretly wants me. Jocks like him always want freaky girls'), but this is dumb revenge, and no less contemptuous or pathetic for being visited on the dumb spiteful jock. Bleeker is a figure of fantasy in the story as surely as Juno is for Steve Rendazo, and this reads like a bit of 'punk' acting-out. But Heathers would already've knocked that shit out of the park if The Breakfast Club hadn't done it first. Must the jock's main function in the story be to settle authorial scores?
But then that's exactly the sort of thing Hollywood writer types go for, hahaha, and so the Oscar goes to...