Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Junoverse and you

Just the other day I finally got around to seeing "Juno" the season's most highly acclaimed unwanted pregnancy movie (will there ever be another year in film where there'll be enough notable movies in this category, i.e. "Knocked Up", "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", for it to be actually competitive?). Along with "No Country For Old Men" back in December, this makes it two of five best picture nominees I've seen in theaters. This is a significant event for me considering in my entire life I had only seen best picture nominated film in theaters (a very bored screening of "Return of the King" in '03). It's also a testament to the completely weird and unexpected pool of movies that have been nominated for best picture this year. I mean, will they really give a best picture Oscar to such bizarre, non-traditional, idiosyncratic movies like "No Country" or "There Will Be Blood" or even "Juno"? I guess "Atonement" looks boring and safe enough to be a solid cop out vote. I suppose "Michael Clayton" looks equally serious and Oscar friendly (although those cryptic commercials I see make it look like two plus hours of people in suits arguing angrily).

As for "Juno", on the whole I liked it, but in the end I didn't think it was anything special, especially not to the level that most critics seem to put it. I recall laughing more (or better yet laughing period) and being more emotionally affected watching "Knocked Up." I still believe that if "Juno" and "Knocked Up" had switched release dates, we'd be calling "Juno" the summer comedy smash and "Knocked Up" the unlikely Oscar contender. I don't know, maybe my opinions will change if I see it a few more times. It does seems like the type of movie that I would probably appreciate more if I see it again. But for now it was good, not great.

The thing I realized about "Juno" halfway into the film was that it obviously takes place in another dimension. Oh sure, there are trees and cars and everybody looks human. People will refer to real life things that exist in our universe like specific types of food, music, history. However, in the end the movie might as well have taken place in Narnia. The Junoverse basically exists somewhere in-between the reality of our world and the hyper-precious, doll house, universe of Wes Anderson movies.

One of the main indications that one is stranded in the Junoverse is that every one's a "character." I mean, everyone is a character obviously, but everybody in the film would be plenty weird on their own in the real world. Everybody is quirky, distinctly dressed, and behave and communicate with each other in a manner that doesn't exist in reality. Juno herself is a great, unique, and interesting character but some of that is diluted by the fact that everyone she meets around her is oddly quirky themselves; the local pharmacy clerk, the abortion receptionist, students, teachers, etc. Everyone would have to be a character to put up with her inhuman levels of sarcasm and sass. Does anybody question the outrageous behavior and dialog of this most unusual high school junior? Of course not, because that's how offbeat pregnant teens act like in the Junoverse. Have you also ever noticed that no black people exist in these quirky universes? Some Asians here and there for comic effect, but hardly any black folk.

Aside from the characters that inhabit it, every setting has to be meticulously set. Juno's room and house reflect her personality perfectly, while Paulie's room and house represent him to a T, and over the top nature of the rich adoptive couple's house perfectly reflects them. Every piece of furniture, stain, picture, lighting, smell, has to constantly empathize something or someone. This goes to the clothes people wear, which act more like uniforms that reinforce that character to the point where someone in real life could dress like them for Halloween and there would be no ambiguity of who they are.

Of course every universe like this has to have their own amazing soundtrack, which the Junoverse has in spades. The soundtrack was as quirky and youthful and precious as the movie, if not more. It definitely fit the film like a glove, but please, there's only so much Moldy Peaches and Kimya Dawson a man could take. Every other scene there was that folksy guitar and nonsensical lyrics about love and kissing. I found the Jason Bateman character really odd in the way that he kept talking about and introducing songs into the film that kind of went against the overwhelming folky-ness of the general soundtrack, with his love of grunge and alternative music. I also can't believe they mentioned that crazy alternative Carpenters cover album, I thought I was the only person in the world who had that CD (the Shonen Knife cover of "Top of the World" is one of my all time favorite cover songs).

In the end though, these aren't really criticisms (except for the Moldy Peaches, that's just bad. Bad, bad, bad), just an observation. I'm actually a big fan of the imaginative, meticulously rendered Wes Anderson universes and was disappointed when Bottle Rocket didn't have enough of it. That sort of film making displays an inspiring amount of imagination, a dedication to detail, and is the most faithful to the spirit of escapism that only film can give us. However, as much as it is entertaining, there's a sense of detachment for me because for me it's as relatable to me as watching Noh theater. "Knocked Up", as all the other recent Judd Apatow hits always had the uncanny ability to really strike a realistic chord with somebody making a comment or doing something that I would have exactly done at that bizarre moment. "Juno", for a movie that's suppose to have all this heart along with the humor, I just couldn't connect. In that sense I thought it was a flawed film.

Or maybe it was just all that damn Moldy Peaches...

1 comment:

  1. I'll admit that I haven't seen Juno, but I understand the universe that you are talking about. Outside of Wes Anderson films, a few come to mind-

    1. Napoleon Dynamite-FUCK THIS MOVIE. Seriously. I have recently come to the conclusion that there truly IS no accounting for taste, so I can't fault fans of this movie simply for liking it-we all choose our own drug, I say. I can, however, point out that in my eyes there is nothing redeeming, interesting, or for that matter funny about this film. I could barely sit through it the first time, despite it eliciting the odd chuckle here and there. I'm just not interested in two hours of watching annoying people. If I wanted that, I'd just suck it up and watch The Big Chill again.

    2. Weeds-Unlike ND, I actually love this universe. Maybe its because its a more blatant satire, perhaps it's just my fondness for the ganja, but I can't wait for the 4th season of Ms. Botwin and her rag-tag team. On that show, even the hood is pleasant looking. The gangstas are way more well-read than any of the ones I've talked to in my neighborhood, and, unlike Juno, there is a healthy racial mix present, not to mention physical handicaps. Jesus Chris!

    3. Sofia Coppola-Again, I will restrain from making this personal and hating on her fans, but I actually believe that Sofia is visitor from the Junoverse. Something about her writing, her characters, and her choice of music makes me think that she's creating a reflection of her own personal reality. Maybe it comes from being raised in a bubble filled with money and precious things (and NO black people), but that girl is more off-beat than a Shaggs song. Death to Coppoladrome. All hail the new fresh-baked scones that you eat on a Sunday morning in your bed, even though the crumbs get everywhere you don't care cuz you're a boy like that. Idiosyncratic bitch.