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Variety's Todd McCarthy:

The popular mini-genre of unwanted pregnancies being taken to term continues with "Juno," an ultra-smart-mouthed comedy about a planned adoption that goes weirdly awry. Given that the girl who gets saddled with child here is a 16-year-old high schooler, played by the conspicuously talented Ellen Page, this zippy item skews younger than either "
" or "
," the latter also a Fox Searchlight release. With Michael Cera ("
") on board as the unwitting underage dad, Jason Reitman's modestly scaled follow-up to his sharp debut feature, "
," is rather adventurously skedded for release on Dec. 21, and should score well as an alternative holiday choice to year-end blockbusters and serious awards contenders. . . .

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Just to give us a taste of what we may be in for ... Anne Thompson looks at the life and career of screenwriter Diablo Cody, and posts this video of her appearance on Letterman last year, promoting her book about her time as a stripper:

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

Just for the record, I saw this movie a few nights ago, and LOVED it. I'll save further thoughts for my review, but for now I will simply note that of the three main Unplanned Pregnancy movies that have come out this year (see links above), this is the only one that explicitly links the protagonist's decision to keep her baby to the influence of a pro-life activist. Not in a way that necessarily endorses pro-life activism, of course. And certainly, the fact that the protagonist finds the abortion clinic receptionist really off-putting is a factor here, too (not unlike how the protagonist in Knocked Up kept her baby partly because she was repulsed by her mother's suggestion that she get an abortion and have a "real baby" later). But the anti-abortion sentiment is certainly there, and it gets under the protagonist's skin in a decisive way. I must admit, I like.

Incidentally, those hoping for a "family values" movie might be disappointed. I really, really don't want to spoil the ending, but suffice to say that... that... oh, heck, I'll use spoiler tags anyway. I'll try to be as vague as possible, but still, you have been warned. Suffice to say that

there is no traditional family, as such, at the end of this film. The film affirms romantic coupledom, and it affirms the parent-child relationship, but in separate dramatic spheres. The closest thing you get to a traditional family is Juno's relationship with her father and step-mother ... but even there, the film begins by underscoring the fact that Juno's BIRTH mother is pretty much gone from the picture

. The interesting thing is, I don't mind such "flaws" at all, within the context of this story, because to my own personal pro-life mind, they only underscore the fact that, no matter how broken a relationship is, no matter how problematic a relationship is, no matter how uninterested someone is in their own child, LIFE is still LIFE, and one's willingness to carry a baby to term or to support someone who is doing so should not be dependent on all these other external factors.

To put this another way... Knocked Up tried, however ambivalently, to sell us on the idea that shotgun weddings work. Juno doesn't. And the fact that Juno isn't interested in selling us the full "family values" bill of goods makes the protagonist's decision to keep her baby just that much more effective. IMHO, of course.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I do not doubt that there will be backlash against Juno. The questions are only these: How much, how vicious, and what effect will that have on the film's box office?

But more than that, I'm already concerned about what effect the film's enthusiasts... and detractors... will have on the audience's ability to see the movie AS A MOVIE.

Some Christians in the media are already buzzing about one particular aspect of the film, for what they may view as its "usefulness" in advancing a particular "cause."

This will undoubtedly send people of the opposite perspective into the movie with their pens in hand, ready to find and exploit the film's weakness, for the sake of weakening its impact. Or they will take the opportunity to lament the lack of films that make a convincing, eloquent case for their side of the cause.

This has the potential to really blunt the effect of the movie on audiences, even spoil it entirely, before anybody has a chance to buy a ticket.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be enthusiastic about Juno. (Heck, I haven't seen it yet.) But I do hope that Christians who examine movies will talk about all aspects of it passionately, rather than contributing to making it an "Issue Movie". (Unless, of course, that's all it is.) If it's a good work of art, it will convey much that is meaningful and give us a lot to consider and discuss.

But I'm already deciding to try and block out reviews of the film until I can see it, because I want to SEE THE MOVIE, not consider it through a particular lens, inclined to pay close attention only to how it represents and explores particular questions of ethics.

(I already went into Bella trying to suppress the noise in my head about one particular Issue at the center of it, and I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that Bella was about all kinds of things. Early Christian press about it had inclined me to expect a pleasant piece of propaganda, and it most certainly isn't that.)

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I'm already concerned about what effect the film's enthusiasts... and detractors... will have on the audience's ability to see the movie AS A MOVIE.

Very valid concerns. My take is that this movie is so strong as a movie that it's going to throw off all but the most determined ideologues on both sides and win them over. At the end of the day, the only issue this movie is about is... Well, I'm not going spoil anything for anybody!

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: I do not doubt that there will be backlash against Juno. The questions are only these: How much, how vicious, and what effect will that have on the film's box office?

Seriously? Any more than there was against Waitress and Knocked Up?

: Many Christians in the media are already buzzing about one particular aspect of the film, for what they may view as its "usefulness" in advancing a particular "cause."

Well, my remarks above about the absence, even a slight subversion, of a "family values" message were designed precisely to caution people against turning this film into a "tool". But I'm curious -- who has been buzzing about this film, on this level? Are there any links you can provide?

: I'm not saying we shouldn't be enthusiastic about Juno. (Heck, I haven't seen it yet.) But I do hope that Christians who examine movies will talk about all aspects of it passionately, rather than contributing to making it an "Issue Movie". (Unless, of course, that's all it is.)

Oh, heck, no, it isn't THAT. And it certainly isn't being MARKETED as that, at least as far as I can tell. But while there is no "embargo" as such on reviews of this film -- it HAS been playing at festivals, after all -- I'm putting off discussing its other aspects until I've written my review. Maybe even until after I've had a chance to see it a second time (and considering how rarely I ever do that these days, that may indicate just how much I like this particular film).

: (I already went into Bella trying to suppress the noise in my head about one particular Issue at the center of it, and I was so pleasantly surprised to find out that Bella was about all kinds of things. Early Christian press about it had inclined me to expect a pleasant piece of propaganda, and it most certainly isn't that.)

But that "early Christian press" was encouraged by the filmmakers themselves, wasn't it? I can't imagine Juno getting that kind of push.

Greg Wright wrote:

: At the end of the day, the only issue this movie is about is... Well, I'm not going spoil anything for anybody!

Okay, Greg, you've got me curious. How would you define the film's "only issue"? There are several characters here, all with their own perspectives and agendas, and all of them are handled fairly sympathetically (one of many reasons I like the film). I see multiple issues, here.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Kyle Smith thinks the movie is too "hip", or "hipster".

I can sort of appreciate his point about the multiple one-liners coming from multiple characters. But, I dunno, is it really so bad that so many characters should reflect the mind of the movie's writer?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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This was my absolute favorite film this year (followed by Eastern Promises and Away From Her). But I thought Thank You For Smoking was funnier than most of my friends. It's got that Little Miss Sunshine vibe and Ellen Page's Juno is one of those characters you can't help but adore. It's funny to hear anyone talk about this being used by the Christian right just because someone chooses not to have an abortion. Both the screenwriter Diablo Cody (who blogged about her life as a stripper in Minneapolis) and Page are strongly pro-choice. It's just a hilarious, warm film with wonderfully quirky characters and a great soundtrack. And two Arrested Development alum. And set designs that look like a Wes Anderson film. And a cameo from Rainn Wilson. What's not to love?

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It's funny to hear anyone talk about this being used by the Christian right just because someone chooses not to have an abortion.

Um. I think the connections run deeper than that.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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The film was enjoyable. I laughed here and there. Ellen Page is a firecracker, no doubt about it.

But she's such a sparkler that the rest of the fireworks just kind of stand around and watch, sparking occasionally.

At least on my first viewing, I thought Juno's personality dominated the movie too much. In every single scene she just talks the heck out of everybody and everything. She's so relentlessly clever that I found it a bit difficult to really "live in" that world, or think about the gravity of her situation. Every scene seems to be all about "What's Juno gonna say and do this time?" ... until the film breaks out to follow the story of the parental-unit-hopefuls and their alarming relationship.

By the way, I asked Reitman in the interview what he hoped people would leave the movie thinking about. And I got the answer I seem to get in 9 out of 10 filmmaker interviews: He wants people not to judge other people, and to be open minded.

Oh, and I now wonder what movie those folks saw, the folks who were talking about this film as a great pro-life movie about family and relationships.

Juno treats divorce rather lightly. And when I asked Reitman about the apparent contradiction between Juno's heartbreak over couples who won't stay together and the movie's apparent blessing on the subsequent divorce, he just shrugged and said, "Well, Juno's just naive. It was absolutely the best thing that [the couple] split up." If it's going to exploited as a pro-life movie (and at this point I doubt it will be), then it also must be accepted as a pro-divorce movie.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Oh, and I now wonder what movie those folks saw, the folks who were talking about this film as a great pro-life movie about family and relationships.

What'd I tell ya.

: Juno treats

divorce rather lightly

.

Huh. I don't think I would have

called it "light"; the wife certainly seems upset by it, and while the reasons for the husband's leaving her are made pretty clear, it's also made pretty clear that Juno is offended by what he does

. If the film doen't dwell on the ugliness of the situation, I just figured it was because the film didn't want us to judge any of the characters too harshly. And I'm fine with that, actually.

It's interesting, though. Lately I've been hearing people -- different people, in different situations -- ask whether their partners or potential partners are their "peers". Once upon a time people wanted their mates to be friends, but now they want them to be "peers". And I guess this is a certainly a pro-"peer" kind of movie. (FWIW, one of my friends asked me a few months ago whether I considered my own wife to be my "peer", and I really didn't know how to answer that.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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:spoilers:

FWIW, I don't think Juno is pro-divorce. On the contrary. I think it is anti-immaturity, and I really admire the film's skill and insight here.

When we first meet Vanessa and Mark, Vanessa seems subtly but visibly uptight and desperate, while Mark seems more relaxed and personable, although from the first there are hints that he may not be entirely on board with the whole baby thing, certainly not as much as Vanessa.

In their first meeting, it almost looks like Vanessa's tight-wound suburban respectability might push Juno away and queer the deal, but Mark's comparative down-to-earthness connects with her, and she feels better about the whole thing.

There are also lines crossed right in that first meeting, when Juno self-incriminatingly gives Mark her wrist with Vanessa's perfume. The way it goes downhill from there, together with Juno's naive blindness to the problem and callow dismissal of her stepmother's sage common sense, rings incredibly true, especially given her disgust for her friend's enthusiasm for their teacher at school. In Juno's mind she is perfectly safe on one side of an uncrossable gap between kids and old guys, and she is incapable of perceiving the inappropriateness of their interaction or the way that Mark sees her (because she can't fathom how he sees himself).

But it happens subtly, gradually, and our impressions of Mark and Vanessa are ultimately reversed. as we realize that Mark's problems aren't minor foibles or pecadillos -- not only is he unready to be a father, he was never ready to be a husband in the first place (which, duh, the two sort of go together) -- while Vanessa, although a little fragile and less perceptive than she might have been, is the grownup in the relationship.

Ultimately we realize that Juno, despite her youthful inexperience, has a far greater grasp on what maturity really is than Mark may ever have. Juno's blindness to the impropriety of their relationship is a mark of her immaturity, but her horrified, outraged railing over Mark's plans to leave Vanessa bespeaks at least an apprehension of maturity that Mark just isn't interested in. If Mark had at 40 the maturity that Juno has at 16, he would never leave Vanessa.

When Juno says to her father "I need to know that it is possible for two people to stay together forever," that's not mere youthful idealism, it's a real insight into the real needs of the human condition, right up there with "Every baby wants to get borned." Perhaps no one in Juno perfectly realizes that need, but the film doesn't pat Juno on the head for thinking that that's the way it ought to be.

And it certainly doesn't look at Mark and Vanessa and say "Well, these things happen, and sometimes it's for the best." They don't just "happen," they happen because it's somebody's fault, in this case Mark's.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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When Juno says to her father "I need to know that it is possible for two people to stay together forever," that's not mere youthful idealism...

Well, according to the director it is.

Here's a case of the movie knowing more than its director. I wonder what Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, would say. (She had to leave the room to take a phone call when I was talking with Reitman, so I didn't get to ask her.)

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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When Juno says to her father "I need to know that it is possible for two people to stay together forever," that's not mere youthful idealism...
Well, according to the director it is.

Here's a case of the movie knowing more than its director.

Yeah, maybe.

:spoilers:

To qualify what I said above, Juno's expectation that a seemingly functional couple like Mark and Vanessa who seem to have no obvious problems are bound to stay together might be naive -- but her underlying conviction that it ought to be that way, that Mark ought to feel and choose differently than he does, and that he is immature and pathetic for being incapable of this, seems to be entirely borne out by the film. The no-harm, no-foul, no-fault "these things happen" view of divorce is not at all on display here.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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FWIW, I don't think Juno is pro-divorce. On the contrary. I think it is anti-immaturity, and I really admire the film's skill and insight here.

Fantastic post. I couldn't agree more. That part of the film reminded me of the infidelity subplot to The World According to Garp so many moons ago now. Mark just didn't seem so pathetic as Garp did -- and it was great to see Juno handle things differently than Garp's babysitter. (Garp did sleep with the babysitter, didn't he?)

(And for the record Peter -- that last little bit in SDG's post is what I believe the movie "is all about." If Reitman didn't intend for that to be the main thrust of the movie, I think he missed the mark.)

Edited by Greg Wright

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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SPOILERS

SDG, I was going to reply to your second-to-last post this morning, but then the website shut down and I had to step out for a few hours. But I was going to say that I agree with your post, with the possible caveat that a phrase like "somebody's fault" implies a little more judgmentalism than I think this film intends.

One of the things I love about this film is, in fact, the way it refuses to judge its characters, or at least the way it allows us to understand and sympathize with them even despite their flaws. You are correct in noting that, in the case of the would-be adoptive couple, we are introduced to the wife's flaw before we are introduced to the sympathetic elements, whereas with the husband the effect is reversed. But I don't think we are ever meant to see that as a case of transferring our sympathies from one person to the other.

I refer again to the notion of "peers" in my previous post. This really seems to be a make-or-break issue for some people these days, and I am not at all surprised to hear that the filmmakers may believe that the Garner and Bateman characters needed to split up because they were not "peers" enough. (Bateman DID seem to be stifled by Garner -- Juno herself, whether naive or not, seems to acknowledge this when she says that Garner has Bateman "on a short leash" -- and while I myself would certainly have advised that couple to resolve their issues differently, I am not at all surprised that those who made the film feel otherwise.)

Personally, my favorite example of the film's sympathetic-approach-to-characters-we-might-not-be-expected-to-like is the stepmother. Juno is rude to her on multiple occasions (dumping Slushies in her umbrella stand, or pot -- what was that thing, again?), but the film allows the stepmother to come across as compassionate and wise when she tells Juno that Juno just doesn't understand what married adult couples are all about, and the film lets the stepmother affirm Garner as a "new mother" (or "new mom"?) when the baby is finally born.

The character is all the more remarkable when you consider that Alison Janney has played some uptight and/or cartoonish authority figures before -- most recently in Hairspray, where she's the Amanda Bynes character's racist, rosary-touting Catholic mother -- and so the Janney character HERE could have been just as one-note. But she isn't.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The character is all the more remarkable when you consider that Alison Janney has played some uptight and/or cartoonish authority figures before -- most recently in Hairspray, where she's the Amanda Bynes character's racist, rosary-touting Catholic mother -- and so the Janney character HERE could have been just as one-note. But she isn't.

Peter, I had to laugh when I was reading the production notes, and Jason Reitman said he was excited to cast Janney because he "loved her in American Beauty."

How can ANYBODY love Janney in American Beauty? She just sits there like a zombie, the most extreme of that movie's extreme caricatures?

Huh. The more I read you guys about this movie, the more I think I need to watch it again. It just felt so proud of its hip central character all the way through that I had a hard time taking it very seriously.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: How can ANYBODY love Janney in American Beauty?

No kidding. What a waste of her talents.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Rex Reed's name always draws criticism here at A&F, but I like Rex Reed.

And Rex likes Juno.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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By the way, I asked Reitman in the interview what he hoped people would leave the movie thinking about. And I got the answer I seem to get in 9 out of 10 filmmaker interviews: He wants people not to judge other people, and to be open minded.

Yeah. Just once I wish one of those guys would be honest and admit, "I want people to judge other people, and to be closed minded."

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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