Egads, movies about the counterculture.
Wait, you were expecting more on that thought? Damn it, I'm not some kind of thinking-machine. I, too, prefer to eat tortilla chips on the couch until I become unconscious rather than working out just what it is about movies like "Juno" with alternative or hipster characters--basically anyone "cool" between 15-35--that tends to make them so very, very hard to be any good.
It's probably got something to do with that slippery paradox where as soon as you start trying to be cool you immediately become insufferable. Like, if you've got a character who ostentatiously loves ironic but earnest lo-fi rock where the singer sounds half drunk, or who gets excited over crummy '80s junk like "He-Man" for the very reason that it was never any good--automatically uncool. Even liking classic punk's lame if you're making a big deal about it.
I imagine the people who made that stuff cool in the first place no longer need to talk about it much at all, let alone constantly flaunt it. So when you use that stuff as a shorthand for why your characters are hip, it comes out all false: these movieland people aren't the ones off doing their own thing, they're imitations, followers tagging along with a cultural fad that's already played itself out. Characters who show some heart to go with their unassailable taste helps a lot, but sometimes a movie's so deep in its own self-congratulatory style it can't ever claw its way back out.
In "Juno," Ellen Page has a problem: she's pregnant, she's 16 years old, and the father, fellow student Michael Cera, isn't any more ready to deal with it than she is. When she's unable to go through with an abortion, she decides to carry it through and then give it up for adoption.
Prospective adopters Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner seem like they'll make excellent parents--nice suburban home, he makes plenty of money, she's enthused to the gills about being a mother--and as the delivery draws nearer, Page, alienated from Cera and the whole high school environment, strikes up an unusual friendship with Bateman.
Only that's not what Page needs, something she doesn't understand until things have already started to break down. It isn't until she realizes she isn't equipped to deal with her suddenly adult problems that she's able to start confronting them.
"Juno" is something of a battle between its cast, which is awesome, and its script, which is so tone-deaf to the way anyone under 30 talks that it may well have been penned by a foreign species that is born at the age of 80, is on Social Security before they can walk, goo-gooing about their medical ailments before they can talk, and dies without ever meeting any of these strange beings called "kids." Written by Diablo Cody (and yes, that is a stage name, though personally I think "Hitler Hickock" would be even edgier), Page's clever-clever dialogue is meant to reflect both her individuality and her immaturity.
Problem is, it doesn't sound like spontaneously clever talk, it sounds like a college sophomore's attempt to be the world's wittiest internet message board commentator. (Something that really angries up my blood, since I already proved I was the king on the "Return of the King" boards '04. Frodo lives, mother-effer.) Page and her friends do a good job bringing their dialogue back to earth, but when you're crushed under the colossal obnoxiousness of lines like "That's one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet" and "Honest to blog," there's only so much you can do to prevent everything you're saying from being crippled by the glibness. Is this movie about the characters, or about how zippy Cody can write youth dialogue?
The older set, particularly J.K. Simmons, Page's supporting dad, are freer to be funny and real. And "Juno's" heart's definitely in the right place. Its relationships are tricky things, constantly shifting, sometimes without the characters even realizing it. People are confused, defensive, have to get over themselves before they're able to find what they're after.
Which they eventually mostly do, resulting in some warmth that would have been much stronger if the movie's central relationship had been developed further--as is, it's a pretty big cheat--or if director Jason Reitman hadn't tied so much of its emotional depths to Wes Anderson-esque indie rock songs. It's calculated, meant to appeal to people like us (you know, people who read internet reviews and are likely to watch sweet, gentle, but hip movies), and only distracts from the things the film does well.
"Juno's" a movie of a few honest moments marred by a heavy coat of artificiality. For all the talk around it, including some that involves the "O" word, there's too much that's either missing or aggravatingly contrived to make for more than a barely-satisfying film; for every part that pulled me in, two more drove me out.