Aren't my sunglasses, like, so ironic? Fox Searchlight Pictures
This blog is slowly becoming entirely devoted to one specific film: the extremely divisive family-friendly hipster pseudo-indie film about teen pregnancy Juno. (I promise I will change that eventually, but now is not the time.)
I realize that much of the Juno hate (mine included) is intensified by, and perhaps even rooted in, the idea of it being undeserving of lavish praise--or of its various Oscar noms. (I wrote about this specific type of hate -- which sometimes spins off to a backlash phenomenon -- about the critics who love to hate über-hip designer Marc Jacobs on my other blog.) Perhaps if Juno were a small film that got mediocre or tepid reviews, that few people saw, and that went about its innocuous, quiet way, we would not devote screeds to its unworthiness and awful screenplay. (Yes, there are screeds.) A recent Entertainment Weekly cover story on the film had studio people saying we should expect to see many more films with strong teenage film characters now, as though Juno were the first movie EVER made about a "smart," "different," adolescent girl--to which I respond: Heathers, Ghost World, Saved (also, incidentally, about teen pregnancy), and even, I would argue, Legally Blonde, which has a protagonist who is as much of an outsider (and is empowered by her outsider status) at Harvard Law as Juno is in her suburban teenage wasteland. The blog fourfour has an excellent, smart response to the EW article, which asserts that Juno is better than its forebears, because "those characters [in Heathers and Ghost World] were more weirdos than antiheroes. They were marginalized by their difference, whereas Juno is empowered by hers." Fourfour responds:
[A]ren't Ghost World's Enid and Rebecca empowered by being marginalized? Isn't a major theme in that movie how being an outcast gives you a great vantage point from which to view society? Ghost World is, after all, fundamentally a movie about the great American pastime that is shit-talking. I'm not sure how Heathers' Veronica isn't ultimately empowered either, since she escapes her clique without, you know, dying. In fact, I'd argue that what makes those teen-girl characters so awesome is their struggle with being marginalized and empowered. It's part of the whole process of uncertainty that defines the teenage years of so many people in this country. These characters are girls, not superheroes.
I would like to take this even further: Juno's message of girl-power through succumbing to motherhood and getting the guy is admirable but, ultimately, rather faulty and retrograde. Winona's character in Heathers rejects the guy, rejects the popular clique, saves school from burning down, and becomes her own person. The last scene shows her emerging victorious from the flames and asking a wheelchair-bound girl if she wants to ditch prom and hang out and watch movies instead. I mean, come on, that is BADASS. (This is why I wanted to be Winona Ryder at a certain period in my life.) How is that final scene not empowering? Beats me.
I don't want to devalue the suffering and the bravery required to go through an adolescent pregnancy--and I think the experience could lead to empowerment. But the sugar-coated world of the film doesn't lead to that. Instead, we have the man's (or society's) version of the idealized female: the girl who realizes that her purpose really is to reproduce and who gets fulfillment through having a baby and finding a man. Typical.
(Still to come: Juno and its references (in response to your comment from my last post, Chris).)