February 7, 2008

"Juno"

From my review in the new issue of The American Conservative:

Last fall, I received a half-dozen invitations to screenings of a "quirky" comedy about a "whip-smart" pregnant teen hipsterette who plans to give her baby up for adoption by an affluent couple. With my finger planted firmly nowhere near the pulse of popular opinion, I tossed each one out, thinking: "To listen to teens with attitude, for this I need to leave the house?"

So, in the wake of "Juno's" Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director (Jason Reitman of "Thank You for Smoking"), Actress (petite 20-year-old Ellen Page), and Original Screenwriter ("Diablo Cody," which is the pole name of 29-year-old self-promoter Brook Busey, whose confessional blog became popular when she started working as a stripper), I ended up paying to see it.

Juno, a cute tomboy who dresses in flannel shirts like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and has a snarky reference ready for every situation, turned out to be just as insufferable as I had expected. If she's so whip-smart, why'd she get so pregnant after one evening with a bright but baffled cross-country runner (the subversively blond and bland Michael Cera from "Superbad") with whom she says she's just friends?

Fortunately, my wife, who admired "Juno" greatly, patiently explained to me the film's considerable subtleties until even my clueless male brain could begin to grasp them.

First, though, let's dispose of the controversy over the purported politics of "Juno." Is Juno betraying feminism by choosing adoption over abortion? Sure. Yet, there's no mystery why Hollywood heroines (as in the recent "Knocked Up" and "Waitress") almost never have abortions: because babies are adorable and abortions are hideous. Nobody -- including, and perhaps especially, pro-choice ideologues -- wants to think visually about abortion.

Well, that doesn't tell you much about the movie, now does it? Funny how the excerpts I post usually seem to be like that. It's almost as if I want you to subscribe to the magazine, isn't it?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

22 comments:

green mamba said...

What does it mean to say Michael Cera is "subversively blond and bland"?

I think he's a talented comic actor. It's to see a guy who specializes in mild-mannered types, instead of another blaring extrovert.

Anonymous said...

Steve do you really think Cody Diablo wrote the movie?

I've read her blog posting, it's semi-literate at best. The sharp insight on the male characters (particularly the "Cool rock dude") seems something a young woman like herself (who married a cool rock dude, and is now separated predictably) could not write.

The one big thing people have focused on is the reference by the Juno character to Soupy Sales. Soupy Sales! Cody Diablo never heard of him. Because he retired a year before she was born.

Probably written by an old guy with skills but no "buzz." Who has the hot but stupid chick fronting for him.

Another Riley Weston if you ask me.

Steve Sailer said...

Good points about a script that polished being the first effort by a stripper.

All I can say is, "Thank God for script doctors." More movies should use them. They're a lot cheaper than having a bad script.

green mamba said...

Maybe the fact that she married a "cool rock dude" and is now separated from him gave her some insight into cool rock dudes? Seems logical.

I haven't read her blog, but I saw her interviewed and she didn't come off as stupid at all. And it's naive to think that an intelligent woman could not also work as a stripper.

Also, the forward she wrote to the published script is very well-written. Unless you guys think that would be ghost-written as well?

I'm not dismissing the possibility that the script was doctored, I just don't think you guys are giving Busey/Cody enough credit.

Steve Sailer said...

That might make a good little upscale low-budget movie about writing movies, with a wistful hint of May-December romance, but stopping short before getting creepy: A Sir Tom Stoppard-character, a major playwright who moonlights as a Hollywood script doctor when he lacks inspiration (played by Sir Michael Caine?), gets hired for a big wad of cash to anonymously help screen doctor the It Girl of the moment's semi-literate blog postings into a screenplay. Touching lessons about life, writing, and today's youth ensue.

Oh, wait, I just realized that Michael Caine already appeared in that movie 25 years ago: "Educating Rita."

Well, so much for my annual attempt at creativity.

Anonymous said...

Ah the modern fairly tale: don't just go around kissing frogs looking for a prince, have sex with them and get pregnant! What could possibly go wrong?

Half Sigma said...

I saw a movie with an abortion in it two weeks ago. "Next Stop Greenwich Village." It was from the 1970s. I guess that was before the Christian Right took over Hollywood.

Artemis said...

Thinking visually about abortion is unpleasant,, but so is visualizing gallbladder removals, liposuction, and even facelifts.

Anonymous said...

Uhm,Steve I seem to have missed your review of 'Rambo'. Never mind;from what Ive heard its basically 'Juno",except with grown-ups and a whole lot of blown up bodies...-Josh

Michael said...

Funny and shrewd review.

Re whether Diablo did the writing ...

I know zilch about this particular instance, but there might be a couple of things to take into account:

1) A film writer usually works closely with a director and producer. Good ones can help make a writer look a lot better than he/she'd usually look.

2) This can be hard for civilians to grok, but being able to write intelligent and clear expository prose and being able to write effectively in a dramatic sense do not often go hand in hand. People who can write clear essays are often lousy dramatic writers. And effective dramatic writers are sometimes dingalings who can't think clearly, let alone put a sensible prose paragraph together.

Essayists: one job, which is generally about presenting ideas, information and language in a clear and vivid manner.

Dramatic writing: another job, which usually involves dreaming up juicy hooks, lively characters, and intriguing situations, and putting 'em over in "effective" ways.

Here's hoping someone with some inside knowledge of this particular case pitches in.

James Kabala said...

Actually, Busey/Cody was a college graduate (U. of Iowa) who had regular work as a secretary and became a stripper for the thrill of the experience(and also, I believe, already with an eye on a book deal). This actually makes her more, rather than less, disgusting than a high school dropout who strips because she needs the money, but it shows she is not necessarily unintelligent.

I saw her on Letterman and she seemed reasonably intelligent, and her speaking style was much like Juno's. Perhaps she had the help of a script doctor - who knows? - but I think that the idea that she had no involvement at all in the script is very implausible.

James Kabala said...

I just went and checked out her blog for a few minutes. It's off-color and the writing style is certainly heavy on slang and pseudo-hipness (much like Juno's dialogue), but I wouldn't call it "semi-literate."

Anonymous said...

The problem with thinking Diablo wrote most of the script is that she only left the cool rock dude (by whom she had a baby) after the movie came out. And her constant refrains of "shocking" behavior that she's "living in sin" (which might have been shocking in 1890, but not say for the last 100 years) doesn't jibe with the more mature depiction of the parents.

Who are presented as loving and basically good.

I agree essayist and dramatists are different types of writers, but word choice and the ability to string coherent themes together should show up regardless of writing. Diablo doesn't seem any different than Wonkette or Washingtonienne or that ballerina who wrote about her explicit sexual experiences: young women who seek attention. Whereas dramatic writers generally seek expression.

The general polish and sophistication of the script reeks of someone experienced writing nearly all of it. My guess is a basic idea using the "hook" of the "It Girl" tattooed ex-Stripper for thrills/excitement was packaged by an agent and someone with actual ability wrote the whole thing.

Woody Allen's "the Front" for the Modern Era in other words.

Udolpho said...

this was a horrible movie and I'm not surprised it was entirely written by a blogger

Bret Ludwig said...

As Jim Goad has correctly stated, stripping is degrading...not so much to strippers but to the men who frequent t***y bars. I don't hold stripping against the girls. It's a lot less dangerous than prostitution and pays better than most porno (and without the lifetime-embarrassing evidence).

The bottom line for me, with these and so many other such films, is that there is nothing humorous or redeeming about unplanned or ill-considered baby making. "Most suicides are better thought out than most pregnancies" is still all too sadly true.

As for abortion, I think it should be a private matter entirely, occasionally necessary but not flaunted. While I accept there is a anti-abortion position making some sense, I find most "pro-lifers" to be fundamentally (no pun intended) disturbed people.

HughRistik said...

Perhaps one of the reasons I've been dragging my feet to see Juno is that I've remembered the last movie I saw the cute actress in: Hard Candy, one of the most hateful movies towards men I've ever seen. I would be interested to hear what Steve has to say about Hard Candy, yet I'm not sure I would want to inflict it on him or on anyone.

Looks like Ellen Page has gone from being a whip-smart preteen who jokes about how Girl Scouts should be taught castration techniques, to a whip-smart teen who gets pregnant.

Spungen said...

The problem with thinking Diablo wrote most of the script is that she only left the cool rock dude (by whom she had a baby) after the movie came out.

She did not have a baby with him. He was already a dad when she got together with him. He was in his late 30s. She leeched off his C-list coolness for a while, then dumped him just as she was getting famous (surprise!).

The thing is, she's really not a stripper. Strippers are poor or working-class. So are most chicks who marry older guys who already have kids, then divorce them two years later. She's U of Iowa -- Missouri J-school grad from a well-off family (I think restaurateurs). As I posed on HS, there are questions about how much stripping she actually did. I suspect reality was more like, she did a few girls-gone-wild stage romps.

Also, the forward she wrote to the published script is very well-written. Unless you guys think that would be ghost-written as well?

Of course it was edited. That sort of thing always is. For further samples of her writing, there's her blog and her memoir. They don't impress me with either skill or original insight. I'm sure she can put together sentences with proper grammar and spelling. I doubt she'd have made it as a writer without the well-off background and the stripper gimmick, though. Writers are a dime a dozen.

Half Sigma said...

Oh, another thing that annoys me about the Juno concept is that yet again we see a 16-year old being played by a 20-year old.

Even youngish-looking 20-year olds don't give of the same vibe as a real 16-year-old girl.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Half Sigma: I saw a movie with an abortion in it two weeks ago. "Next Stop Greenwich Village." It was from the 1970s. I guess that was before the Christian Right took over Hollywood.

Roger Ebert wrote an abortion into what was otherwise a pretty good soft-core porn flick, called Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, way back in 1970.

That was in the era when lesbians were still evil [cf Ingrid Pitt's epic masterpiece, The Vampire Lovers], and proof of their evilness was that they murdered their unborn children.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: That might make a good little upscale low-budget movie about writing movies, with a wistful hint of May-December romance, but stopping short before getting creepy...

Dude - what's creepy about May-December?

Like, seriously - STFU, man!

How am I going to con some hot little Chinese number into marrying an old guy like yours truly if you're out there telling them that it's "creepy"?

PS: Good trivia question [again]: Who premiered Kurt Weill's "September Song", on October 19, 1938?

But it's a long, long while, from May to December, and the days grow short when you reach September...

Lucius Vorenus said...

Anonymous: that ballerina who wrote about her explicit sexual experiences

Uh, me and John Derbyshire would like a little more information here.

Like, a name?

[Just kidding, Derb...]

Anonymous said...

She does not betray feminism. Most feminists are not pro-abortion. They are very much pro-choice. At 16,Juno was well aware that she had a choice, and she made a personal decision not to have an abortion. She would not have stood outside the clinic telling other people to make the same one.