I’m behind, so I may have to crank out another post after this one. Turns out there are one or two people (namely Andrew and Marie) who check this thing out, and I wouldn’t want to let them down. They’re two very cool people. Andrew has proclaimed himself my artistic mentor, bless his humble heart, and Marie is she who keeps me honest. Whenever I recognize a hint of pretense (which is not often enough), I think of her and backspace a whole lot.
So last week we saw Juno. Before discussing it, I’ve gotta discuss something that relates to it. Namely, there’s the issue of what constitutes something “good.” That’s obviously too huge and earth-shaking for a blog post, so I’ll just mention a few things that irk me and some things that impress me. It’s good when movies are unreal, or at least it can be. Everything doesn’t have to be a “true story.” For example, I read recently that the recent movie American Gangster (which I did not see) is taking some heat due to allegations that it’s not the true story it proclaimed itself to be. Apparently the main dude (i.e. Denzel) wasn’t the suave, intelligent bad guy that the film portrayed him as. To be honest, I didn’t scour the article. But I did read the suggestion–more than a suggestion, actually a prediction–that this controversy would surely affect the film’s performance during awards season (i.e. that idiot named Oscar). This is quite silly. To be sure, a story should not present itself as true if it is not, but… There are hosts of problems with this idea. For one thing, any kind of adaptation isn’t going to be “true” in the strict sense. Impossible. Second, what does it matter? Is it a good movie/book/play/etc.? That’s the question. Finally, why is there so often the urge to say “based on a true story”? Does that make it better? Apparently it does, because now that American Gangster has been exposed as somehow fraudulent, it is less likely to win awards. If someone had to get creative with something that wasn’t interesting enough before, and he/she transformed it from what it was in real life into something worthy of the screen, shouldn’t he/she be lauded? I would think, kudos for being the kind of dude who invents and doesn’t merely record/retell.
That turned into a tangent. But the point is, creativity is a good thing; reality itself isn’t required for something to be good–at least, it’s not required that art look like reality. If it were, then Picasso was never an artist. Now, moving on, there’s been a movement lately in filmmakers that has preferred to present a world similar to reality but containing characters and settings that are quite odd. The previous post on a Wes Anderson film betrays my preference for that director’s weird world. There are others, though. Garden State. Napoleon Dynamite. Little Miss Sunshine. The films of Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine…, The Science of Sleep). People like to note how quirky the characters are, how unexpected is every line of dialog. It’s in style right now. It’s helpful to recognize when something is in style, because it helps you see when something is still original-ish even when it’s following a kind of formula.
Which takes us to Juno. I told Marie that I hadn’t yet seen it, but that it looked a little too cutesy. Well, yeah. Sometimes movie trailers capture their respective movies all too well. (Pause: dang it! I’m not a cynical person [anymore]! I hate it when people like something and I don’t! I don’t want to be that guy!) Juno didn’t contain anything that wasn’t immediately apparent from its trailer. It followed a highly original formula, but in that way it was completely unoriginal. You had the soft, acoustic, feel-good song playing during the eye-catching opening credits (so hard not to think of Napoleon Dynamite). Quirky characters and sometimes quirky dialog. But most of the dialog, especially from the girl Juno, just sounded how girls that age sound nowadays, along with that way-too-quick-to-be-real wit that made some audience members chuckle. Her lines were sitcom lines. They were designed as punchlines in themselves, and they felt like they found their source in a screenwriter tapping his head with his fingers while sitting over the keyboard trying to come up with a snappier comeback. Dang, that sounds cynical. Michael Cera, of course, found his niche as George-Michael back on the greatest TV show ever and hasn’t really broken character since. When a character works that well, why should he change it? As for Juno, she started out the film as pretty know-it-all, smarmy, and self-aware, and she never really changed either. Her emotional breakdown wasn’t enough to create the feeling that she had really moved forward. In the end, there’s nothing very profound about two teenagers who do it, get pregnant, and in the end realize they should be together. It may be a “good” ending, but it’s not a great one.
All that said, it’s not the main problem with the movie. Its main problem is that it depends on its story too much. There was nothing to look at. It should have been a book. It would have done better that way than cinematically. Its focus was on story and dialog. A Michel Gondry gives you some remarkable imagery, really bizarre and cool stuff. Wes Anderson has a trademark look, including a telephoto lens and a kind of symmetry that is somehow in itself ironic and hilarious. Even Napoleon Dynamite (can’t believe I’m admitting this) had some things that just looked funny. Juno was Little Miss Sunshine meets Garden State. The former was fine, but way overhyped. Again, a movie that might have done better as a book; even better as a comic book. The latter was self-serious despite failed attempts at subtle comedy. It was weird for the sake of weird, and as a result it ended up being not that weird, when you stopped and thought about it. Juno wasn’t bad. It just didn’t seem very good.
An upside of having a blog is that you can be more honest with your friends when you didn’t like movies they liked. There you go, Andrew. Put that in your artsy pipe and smoke it.