I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty average guy. Maybe not average to the point of Lou Reed’s Average Guy average, but pretty close. I like my coffee hot, my pizza round, and my settlers Catan. There is one opinion I have, however, that pushes me further and further away from the middle of the bell curve whenever the topic is brought up. I absolutely cannot stand the movie Juno.
Most of the people within our demographic seem to adore Juno. I haven’t met more than two people who agree with me when I say it’s one of the most banal and pointless films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was so overhyped that by the time I finally saw it, it couldn’t possibly live up to the expectations I had. The other possibility is that it’s just an awful, shallow attempt at making an “indie” film.
Most people describe Juno as an indie teenage comedy which is surprising in two ways. The first is that they use the word “indie.” Juno had a budget of seven million dollars, was made by a moderately-sized studio that had released Stranger Than Fiction just a year previous, and was distributed by Fox. Juno is many things, but an independent film is not one of those things. So we can remove the word “indie” from the description.
We are then left with “teenage comedy.” I will acquiesce that the film’s plot centres on teenagers. It can scarcely be called a comedy, however, as I’ve yet to find any actual jokes within the film. There are many pop culture references, lots of zany slang is slung, and Michael Cera is awkward – but legitimate, real, honest-to-blog jokes? They are nowhere to be found. It’s hard to support an entire movie on the strength of Ellen Page being quirky.
Moreover, when did quirky become a substitute for characterization? Throughout the movie we are assaulted by the fact that Page’s character is so different and so unique, and she just refuses to conform. In one of the movie’s most overt shots Page works her way through a crowd of people in her high school, walking against the flow of traffic. This is obviously meant to show how much of a non-conformist she is and how she refuses to be held down by social standards. The only thing this scene showed me is that if I saw her character on the Fine Art’s Building stairs, I would probably want to murder her. Being different is not a personality trait.
Juno isn’t even that much of a non-conformist when it really counts. Sure, she has a hamburger phone and puts all of her furniture on the lawn, but when it comes down to one of the most important decisions of her life, she allows herself to be swayed by the status quo. She walks into the abortion clinic ready to terminate her pregnancy when a pro-life peer assaults her with rhetoric on the developmental status of the fetus, saying that it probably has fingernails by that point. In another awkwardly overt seen, the drumming of fingernails in the waiting room of the clinic causes her to panic and decide to keep the baby.
What the eff, Juno?! So you’ll be your own person when it’s easy and all you have to do is pretend to smoke a pipe, because you’re so utterly unique, but then when the chips are down you’ll let anyone influence you? What sort of message is this movie sending? I know that if I had the equivalent of a tumour in the middle of my abdomen and someone told me it had fingernails, I’d be laughing all the way to the O.R.
Truly though, it doesn’t inherently matter whether the message of Juno was pro-life or pro-choice. An awful movie can have whatever politics it wants and it will still be awful. What matters is that the film-makers created a character centred on non-conformity, then they immediately removed her agency at the first sign of duress. Creating a one-note character is bad writing. Creating a one-note character and then contradicting that character’s only personality trait is laughably bad writing.
A bad film can be bad, however, and not be guilty of terrible crimes. Juno is guilty of terrible crimes. Juno is one of many movies within recent years to affirm the idea of non-conformity as a personality trait in youth across the country. At the end of the day, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being different and going against the norm.
I really don’t care if you want to shave the sides of your head, pierce yourself silly, or cover your body with tattoos. I could care less if you love Japanese-Gothic-Lolita fashion, cover every inch of your bag with pins, reference obscure anime, and are just so totally quirky! What I care about is if you have anything to your identity, your character, and your life that lies beyond your quirks.
Being different doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you are smarter, cooler, or more interesting than the people who play football and read Entertainment Weekly. All it means is that you’re at a different spot on the bell curve. And if you stay that shallow, it’s going to get very lonely.