Every year a film is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar that absolutely, positively does not deserve such an honor. It’s like a sacrificial lamb at the altar of mediocrity.
Last year it was Little Miss Sunshine. The year before that it was Crash. The year before that it was Finding Neverland.
I used to call these films “Chocolats,” after the utterly forgettable remake of Footloose that replaced dancing with candy. These films earned their nominations not because they were good but because Harvey Weinstein handcrafted bland movies to appeal to elderly Oscar voters (see also: The Cider House Rules, Shakespeare In Love, etc.). The Chocolats died out when Harvey left Miramax a few years ago, but the unworthy nominees remain. This year’s is unquestionably Juno.
It’s really a shame that Juno sullied an otherwise flawless list of Oscar nominees. There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men deservedly got the most nominations, fine performances from small films by people like Casey Affleck and Marion Cotillard were recognized and the heavenly “Falling Slowly” from Once is up for Best Song. Replace “Juno” with “Zodiac” whenever you see it on the list of nominations and you’ve got perhaps the best Oscar lineup since the 1970’s. But what’s done is done, and now we must hope against hope that this annoying, saccharine, terribly written, poorly directed, monumentally overrated film is completely shut out.
Juno went from indie comedy to Oscar contender because of Roger Ebert’s now legendary review, which is so hilariously over-the-top in its praise that I had to take a mental pause after every sentence to disagree with it in my head. “Jason Reitman’s Juno is just about the best movie of the year.” I was pissed that I picked seeing this over Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which barely made my top ten.
“Has there been a better performance this year than Ellen Page’s creation of Juno?” Hmm, how about pretty much every other performance that was nominated for an Oscar? I have nothing against Ellen Page, who is indeed a fine actress. But there’s no acting to be seen in this movie. Everyone is just reading self-consciously clever quips from an awful screenplay by a marketing creation known as Diablo Cody.
I’m not sure where you might have heard this before, but Ms. Cody used to be a stripper. Maybe you picked it up from her book A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, or her charming blog “The Pussy Ranch,” or her widely read New York Times profile “Off the Stripper Pole and Into the Movies.” The aforementioned NYT piece is a thousand times funnier, albeit unintentionally, than Juno.
The breathtakingly pervy writer, David Carr, simply cannot stop thinking about stripping. He imagines her former office as “a skeevy strip bar where desiccated women grind out a living a dollar at a time,” calls her life “a fairy tale...where the role of the glass slippers is played by a pair of stripper’s stilettos,” and, my personal favorite, describes her hair before noting “she may have once made a living letting it fall in the faces of her lap-dance clients.”
That’s why Juno has become a rip-roaring success: a rapturous but ridiculous review by America’s most famous critic and the image of a first-time writer cranking out pages between shifts at the strip club. Cody is not a writer. She’s a professional smartass, one of those irritating people who makes casual conversation like she’s in some middling Sundance movie. She strung together a couple of lame catchphrases and called it Juno.
None of the characters are developed an iota beyond face value. There’s Vulnerable But Spunky Teenage Girl, Dumb Friend, Dad, Aged Hipster and so on. Add a painful soundtrack that plays as perhaps the worst indie rock mixtape in history and director Jason Reitman’s shameful cribbing of every trick in the Wes Anderson/Terry Zwigoff playbook and you’ve got yourself a bonafide piece of crap.
The fact is that nothing separates Juno from any number of other Anderson ripoffs like Napoleon Dynamite, or Igby Goes Down, or Tadpole, or Thumbsucker, except that all of those movies were much better. At least they were genuinely funny, or honest, or unfolded in a way that wasn’t completely obvious from the first frame.
Juno is a movie about hipsters that is exactly like a hipster: defined completely by style, not at all as clever or unique as it thinks it is, obsessed with music that sucks and pieced together from things it’s influenced by instead of weaving those influences into something new and worthwhile.