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February 13, 2008

a few things that struck me about juno.

I got to see Juno at the Apollo this past Sunday afternoon, and I really really liked it.  It is quite twee, and has a striking soundtrack appropriate to such a tone (Moldy Peaches, Belle and Sebastian et al), but if I'm honest I REALLY LIKE TWEE THINGS.  I'm all for objects that try to express honesty through simple-ness or childish-ness.  Juno immediately establishes this frequency for itself with a patchwork-animation title sequence and a theme song by children's songwriter Barry Louis Polisar (which is, simply enough, entitled 'All I Want Is You').

Juno is one of the more attractive female characters in the cinema of my recent memory.  She is funny, she is artistic, she is enthusiastic about outmoded pop culture (she namechecks The Stooges and Dario Argento), she makes a novelty pipe look cool.  She is as witty as Enid from Ghost World (minus the bitterness) and as romantic as Amelie - and, indeed, her enormous nighttime gestures towards Bleeker (moving a furniture set across town, filling his mailbox with orange Tic-Tacs) feel like they owe a debt to that French lady.  She doesn't appear to think too hard about the implications or consequences of her actions (see: her pregger-ness), which are signs of an immature, teenage sensibility, but she doesn't try to dodge or be dishonest about her problems.  You get the impression that she'll learn from her mistakes and move on.   

It's important for this film to have such a sympathetic protagonist, because she carries all of its emotional weight - it wants to believe that her innocence and romanticism can be widespread.   She is placed into a social world populated by, strictly speaking, broken or unconventional families.  We find out early on that Juno's mother abandoned their family when Juno was still young.  Further to this, we only ever see Bleeker's mother (leaving open the suggestion that his father has left) and Vanessa & Mark, the couple in whom she invests so much, fall apart.  It is this latter development that leads her to ask her father, "I just need to know if it's possible for two people to stay happy together forever." - a question that I think is at the heart of this movie.  It is at this point that she, and we, look again at the families to be shown the kindness and love that hold them together.  Although her mother left at a young age, perhaps Juno and family are not badly off at all.

I'm really interested in the relationship between Vanessa and Mark.  The decision to get divorced is made so unbelievably quickly (Mark tells Juno that he's planning on leaving Vanessa, Juno storms out of the house and is confronted by Vanessa, Mark has divorce papers about one scene later) that it makes me ask if they got married at a similar speed.  When Juno spots Vanessa at the mall, my first reaction (probably because of Juno's instinct to duck out of sight and spy) was to feel suspicious - what is she doing?  why isn't she at work?  has she been lying? - when the reality of the situation is way more innocent and sweet. 

There's a great moment where Vanessa is painting the nursery, and she's wearing an old Alice in Chains t-shirt splattered with paint.  The t-shirt undoubtedly belonged to Mark, and Vanessa - having deemed it too old or unsuitable for Mark at his age - now uses it as a disposable item.  I'd be willing to bet money that Mark resents this - he feels that he can still go see Alice in Chains if he wants to, and mosh along with the kids.  This type of scenario, and the argument that they later have at the end of their relationship, raises the oft-cited masculine problem or confusion: feeling like a relationship is somehow stifling your self.  Perhaps it is possible to hold up Juno's father or Bleeker as alternative solutions or retorts to this problem - I'm not sure.

A lot has been said or written about Juno's relationship to the politics of abortion (and I do have one or two thoughts about this - her decision to not get an abortion seems to be represented as irrational and borne out of fear, which would seem to be a sidestep away from making a clear point on this issue), but I much prefer a reading that emphasises the film's belief in love, not only in the romantic sense, but also between family members and friends.  It is all very, very sweet.  I like that.

P.S I plan to see the movie again sometime over the next couple days, so perhaps will share more detailed thoughts about it. 

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