OK, I will probably go see Juno and I’ll probably like it. The title character is apparently one of the smartest, funniest, pluckiest female protagonists in a while: a 16-year-old who’s dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, initially goes to have an abortion, then ends up deciding to carry the pregnancy to term, with a nice couple she finds as adoptive parents. (More about that aspect of it later.) It’s been described as a whip-smart, witty indie comedy, like Little Miss Sunshine but less disturbing, like Knocked Up could have been if it weren’t so intensely dude-focused without much insight into the female characters.
The fact that Juno has a strong, nuanced female lead shouldn’t be entirely surprising, because the film was written by a womna: Diablo Cody, an up-and-coming screenwriter who’s been getting a fair amount of attention in the reviews. I feel like I ought to be excited by this. There aren’t enough women writing screenplays that get made into films, and writers don’t get enough attention as it is. Is it awful that I find Diablo Cody deeply, deeply irritating? At least in this interview?
It’s not every day that you sit down with a fiery femme filmmaker who’s got a tattoo of a pinup girl on her right shoulder, but that’s just what young Juno bad girl screenwriter brought to the interview table today.
With a crown of choppy black goth hair as the ultimate anti-’do, and a surgical glove on her right hand that she wore for no particular reason except to snap it on her wrist every now and then for emphasis of some wacky idea or another, Diablo talked about, among other eye openers, Catholic guilt, not giving a lap dance to Steven Spielberg, her former strangely liberating gig as the worst stripper and phone sex worker, and how cyberspace made her do it, don’t ask.
Why did you get into stripping?
DIABLO CODY: Blogging led me to stripping. I was at a point where I didn’t have much to say on my blog. So I stripped for one night, and it was supposed to be a fun thing to do. But I wrote about it, and people responded right away. It got me to thinking, this could be good for the blog.
Clearly, some of my ire should be vented at whatever idiot interviewed her. Apparently it was someone who not only can’t write sentences, but who eats this kind of thing up like candy — blunt razor-cut bangs, hair dyed black, a shocking shoulder tattoo of a pinup girl (I declare, I think I shall faint!) and random surgical gloves. Eats it up like candy that will somehow make them cool. I have to hand it to Cody, she knows how to work the media. I kept stumbling over more asides about how deliriously HIP she is. (Man, why didn’t I change my name to something cool like Diablo Cody when I had the chance? I could have named myself Angstlitude O’Malley, but no. I had to pick a normal boring name. I guess I’m writing all of this out of jealousy.)
Most of the reviews of Juno are positive, and everyone loves the lead actress. But the main point of divergence between reviewers, regardless of whether they found the film good or bad overall, seems to be about the “thirty witty references a minute” script. I try not to let myself be influenced too much by film reviews, much as I love reading Variety rip apart a schlocky piece of feel-good trash. But at this point, when I go to Juno I will be struggling not to cringe during the first third of the film while waiting for lines like “honest to blog!” and “That’s one doodle that can’t be un-did, homeskillet.” Like this reviewer, the quotes from Cody’s script remind me of Joss Whedon at his most painfully awkward, trying to manufacture clever new turns of phrase to approximate a weird, imaginary teenage-slang that doesn’t quite exist. (He did much better using this technique to paste Mandarin and cowboy-talk together into sci-fi lingo, if you ask me.)
The most amazing thing is still the aforementioned interviewer, who actually says:
I feel Diablo, that for probably the first time in movies, you’re speaking like real teenagers speak. It’s so refreshing. This is really the way they talk.
I hate to take you to a harsh realm, homeskillet, but that quote puts you right in the tom-tom club with all the rest of the lamestains. (50 points for naming the seminal hipster event being referenced and the author.)
I really ought to shut up about Juno at this point until I’ve seen the movie. But let’s move on. I’m not even sure what to say about the fact that she started stripping because she figured it could be good for her blog. I mean, I have nothing against strippers blogging at all. Her original blog, the Pussy Ranch, is no longer online so I’m not even sure if it was any good or not. (Anyone read it?) And I guess I can’t even be surprised that it’s the white prep school girl from the suburbs who decides to audition at the “sleaziest” club she can find, for a lark and a blog, who ends up getting a book deal. She’s the “unlikely stripper” apparently… as opposed to the “likely strippers” who are, you know, working their asses off to make ends meet, not just to be able to buy a new car, and who mostly (even according to Cody) lack the fun, devil-may-care attitude about sex work that enables her to laugh pleasantly when Letterman acts like the total creep he is and inquires, “uh… uh… heheh… so… do the girls get any, ah, enjoyment, ah, out of it too?” I’m just kind of at a loss. I have friends who have stripped or are stripping in order to pay off debt, in order to make up for crappy part-time wages, in order to feed their kids. But still… aaahghgh…. the whole things is somehow so obnoxious and entitled, it makes my head hurt.
Which brings me finally to the topic of abortion. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon already pre-emptively declared that Juno is going to be analyzed as a film with a position on abortion, and that she doesn’t think it should be:
I’m dreading the inevitable: that “Juno” will be seized upon by groups and individuals with all sorts of pregnancy-related agendas. But this is a story about people, not about political or even moral convictions.
Yeah, I mean… it’s not like a story about PEOPLE could have any political angles in it, intentional or not, right? In this film, Juno apparently goes to a clinic, then freaks out in a totally understandable way and ends up reconsidering. But several reviewers have noted that the whole topic of abortion is weirdly glossed over, like the guy I linked before:
Consider Juno’s original decision to get an abortion. Here we have a chance to watch a character struggle to make an impossible decision. There could even be room for comedy, as smart humorists are able to find laughter in even the bleakest of life’s moments. Cody, however, rushes through the entire plot point, offering up pointless caricatures before moving on. It’s as if Cody knows we won’t have a movie without Juno’s decision to deliver the baby, so we might as well plow through any obstacles to get there.
What, really? Do you think that’s what she was thinking?
I had one image in my mind when I wrote this. That was of Juno sitting across from Mark and Vanessa Loring being polar opposites to her, and then having to audition to adopt her baby. To me, that was the movie right there. It was a weird image, and I couldn’t have gotten that if she had an abortion. She had to have the baby in order for me to execute the story.
Ding ding ding! Having the baby is a foregone conclusion in this movie–just as it is in other recent movies with abortion “sideplots,” like Knocked Up and Waitress. This isn’t just coincidence. A film where someone actually has an abortion is a completely different kind of movie. And usually not such a feel-good movie–at least not in the existing molds that Hollywood (and Sundance) provide. Plus, if the movie is actually about abortion, then you’d have to take some kind of stance on it, and everyone knows a political stance (especially on abortion) can just end up like doo-doo all over your box office unless you’re Michael Moore or someone.
It’s hard, Jason and I wanted to make the movie as personal as we could rather than political. Juno never moralizes about the choice she makes. We never get a speech like, “I can’t kill my baby.” I’m pro-choice, so for me it was very important that the movie not seem to have any kind of anti-choice agenda.
Fair enough. I’m sure that in some ways, the story had to be told the way it did; I do enough plot writing that I know we don’t always have full control over the shape and vision of these things. But but but at the same time, Diablo Cody wants us to know that she’s pro-choice, and tried to avoid pro-life messages in the film… she’s just, you know… the kind of pro-choice where if you have an opportunity to really say something significantly pro-choice to a whole lot of people, you keep quiet about it. Because it probably won’t go over well, and then a bunch of pro-lifers can comfortably interpret your movie in a way that’s cozy with their values.TM You know… in a better world, this kind of story really would be pro-choice: a girl faces a difficult decision, reacts with emotion and logic and pressure and everything else bundled up, and has to make a choice for herself. But that’s not the world we live in, eh? The world we live in is one where choice is eroded all the time by rhetoric about how fetal cell division is more important than decisions about your own body. And this latest batch of indie films may be well-crafted… but they’re not much help on that front. But then, very little in the studiously apolitical world of anything called “indie” ever is.
Any of you who’ve seen Juno ought to post your own impressions. And I promise, swear to the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, that I will write a real review of this film after I see it, since all of this reviewing-of-reviews-and-interviews strikes me as a bit snarky and unfair. But come on… that’s what you get for wearing one surgical glove to an interview!
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