Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In Defense of Juno

With all the love Juno's been getting (even from those who don't buy its fairy-tale ending), there was bound to be some backlash. Yesterday New Yorker critic Sasha Frere-Jones kicked things off with some inchoate grumblings on his website, citing The Village Voice's review, which frames the problem this way:

Juno's knocked-up 15-year-old is at once provocatively precocious and primly pre-sexual. Her pregnancy is a miracle of bad luck—she simultaneously loses her virginity and conceives a baby. It's all but immaculate ... People love clever little Juno because she isn't really a teenager, let alone a person. Juno is an angel.

Today Frere-Jones follows up with a link to another scowling review; this one claws at the movie by dismantling its chart-climbing (and, according to the Washington Post, "insufferably twee") soundtrack, which it alleges features "the exploitation and fetishization of childlike naivete (and the Unexpectedly Articulate Wisdom there found), moving beyond interesting, beyond cute, into empty and nauseating self-absorption." Huh? The Juno I saw was certainly preciously wry (seeped in all those droll Moldy Peaches witticisms, how could it not be?), but the script and sountrack's stalwart cleverness struck me as good fun -- and hardly tiresome, let alone nauseating. Capped with Ellen Page's jaunty ponytail, even Juno's halo was easy to accept as a practical accoutrement and not a smug accessory. What's going on here? Today David Carr offers this theory on Juno haters in his Carpetbagger blog:

As long as “Juno” sat in the corner and made cute, no biggie. But the $100 million stands as a mark against it and its potential to run up the middle between two serious films that split the best picture vote is sparking a low-level panic ... to suddenly kick something to the curb because it found an audience is the height of “rockism,” a critical mindset that suggests if a lot of people like something, there must be something terribly wrong with it.

Bingo! On that note, stay tuned for the Barry Louis Polisar backlash, which is surely soon to follow.

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