In a previous blog post, I took Joe Morgenstern to task for recommending Juno for a Best Picture Oscar. “No one who has ever met an unwed teen mother in real life would ever vote for that cutesy, hipper-than-thou fluff,” I wrote. Since then, I’ve been asked why I’m being so hard on Juno. So let me break it down for you.
From the start, Juno over-reached with ridiculous dialogue. Consider this exchange in which Rollo, a store clerk, and Juno ponder the interpretation of her home pregnancy test:
Rollo: That ain’t no etch-a-sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, homeskillet.
Rollo: So what’s the prognosis, Fertile Myrtle? Minus or plus?
Juno MacGuff: I don’t know. It’s not seasoned yet.
Juno MacGuff: I’ll take some of these. Nope… There it is. The little pink plus sign is so unholy.
[shakes pregnancy tester]
Rollo: That ain’t no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet.
Rollo: You better pay for that pee-stick when you’re done with it. Don’t think it’s yours just because you marked it with your urine!
Rollo: Well, well… If it isn’t MacGuff the crime dog! Back for another test?
Juno MacGuff: I think the last one was defective. The plus sign looked more like a division sign. I remain unconvinced.
[Rollo pulls the bathroom key out of reach]
Rollo: This is your third test today, Mama Bear. Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it.
Yeah, right — just your typical exchange between your local store clerk and a pregnant, unwed teen.
If you’ve seen Juno, you know the rest of the story — and Juno’s penchant for oh-so-ironic literary allusions and deadpan observations about life.
Now consider Pulp Fiction from 1994. No one in real life (that I’ve ever met) talks like anyone in Pulp Fiction. But, here’s the difference: Pulp Fiction immediately established its own world apart from ours, where a cartoon-like character ponders the merits of a Big Kahuna burger before murdering some poor shmuck with a Flock of Seagulls haircut. Moreover, it was obvious that Pulp Fiction was as much a statement about our casual acceptance of violence as it was a work of art.
Pulp Fiction worked becuase it established its intent and tone immediately. We were able to willingly suspend disbelief and let the movie play by its own rules in its own strange world that existed inside our own.
Juno failed because I was supposed to believe that Juno was a real person dealing with real problems in a ridiculous, breezy fashion. Had the movie been about satirizing our culture’s perception of teen pregancy by telling its story through the eyes of a ridiculously over-the-top pregnant teen hipster, I might have formed different conclusions.
But I don’t think satire was its intent.
Juno did have its moments. Jennifer Garner deserved an Oscar nomination. Her character was fully realized and complex. But I resented the movie overall because Juno demanded that I accept the unacceptable.