Juno revisited

I watched Juno for the second time last night with some friends. I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time, but my friends were critical of Diablo Cody’s script. “It’s been over-hyped by this point,” I told them, but they raised some valid points about the structure and the writing. So here’s my critique meshed with theirs.

 

For starters, I love this movie, and I love the script. Juno works because the characters are written as real people, and written well. The second time through I found myself really enjoying Allison Janney’s performance, and Olivia Thirlby is the perfect teenage girl sidekick. The script avoids painting its characterw with the black-and-white distinctions found in Hollywood formula crap and instead goes for ambiguity, which makes watching it over again very rewarding. That said, it gets off to a bumpy start. As many have noted, the first twenty minutes are crap. The script feels like it’s straining so hard for indie cred, with its obscure pop-culture references and witty banter (“Phuket, Thailand!” is a godawful line), and it’s amazing that the first act’s roughness didn’t get smoothed out before the movie made it through preproduction. In comparison to the second half of the movie, the beginning feels self-consciously quirky and pointlessly ironic. It fails because it forsakes true, resonant characterization for zingers.

 

My friend also brought up the falseness of “It started with a chair,” “It ended with a chair.” Why is the film framed in this way? The first chair makes sense—it’s an important piece of the movie (“Actually, Paulie is really good in… chair…” is a line I missed the first time through)—but the second feels like Cody is stretching for a resonant image to echo the beginning. It’s pointless, it doesn’t need to be there, and—like the first twenty minutes—it makes the narrative feel self-conscious.

 

But those are my only complaints in an otherwise very good script. I can forgive Juno for not being perfect because it tries so hard to treat its characters like human beings, and its audience as intelligent, empathetic people.

 

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~ by Ian D. on April 24, 2008.

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