Believe me, I fully recognize that a guy pretty much has to
be a moron and a glutton for punishment to criticize Diablo Cody at this point.
Either that or he has to be a very, very brave man, a man with the stones of
I’ll plead absolutely guilty on the first counts. As to the
second, well, yes, ma’am, I do believe I’m your man there as well.
Let me get some things out of the way before I move ahead
with my ill-advised temerity (and I’m willing to acknowledge that I have no
idea whether temerity is always, by its very nature, ill-advised, but I’m aware
of the possibility).
I know Diablo Cody is a very smart woman, and based on her
work I would know this even if she hadn’t let slip in interviews that she has
the stratospheric IQ of the average postal service Mensan. She’s a sharp, smart character, and almost all of her writing that I’ve seen has been very sharp, very
smart, and frequently funny.
The writing in Juno is often very sharp, very smart, and
very funny. The problem is that it is not the way real people talk; it’s the
way people talk on television sitcoms, and I guess I hold films to a slightly
higher standard, at least films that get nominated for Academy Awards –films
like Kramer Vs Kramer, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and Titantic. I
promise you that I wouldn’t have a single complaint if Juno were nominated
for an Emmy, particularly if they had a category for the snappy Post-Modern
I understand that the legend has it that Ms. Cody birthed
the Juno screenplay in the restroom at some suburban Target, washing down fistfuls of
truck stop speed with two-liter jugs of RC Cola or some such while hunched over a
laptop balanced precariously on the diaper changing station. Fine, I’ll buy
that if you really want to make a stink about it. I also believe, however, that
she had some help from a handful of down-on-their-luck former Different
Strokes and Family Ties writers (Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying
that any of these people were in the women’s room with her). And I’m also pretty
damn sure that somebody from The Simpsons or The Family Guy sprinkled a
little fairy dust on the thing before she turned it over to Jason Reitman.
I have other problems with the movie, yes, but I guess I also have
a few problems with the mythology that I should get out of the way first. I don’t,
for instance, believe that Diablo Cody was ever a stripper. I just don’t. I
know she wrote a memoir about the "experience," but I also know that that
doesn’t prove a damn thing. Wouldn’t you think if this story were true, we’d
have been inundated with backbiting and lecherous accounts from former
co-workers and the habitués of the establishments where she purportedly worked?
Maybe I’m not paying proper attention –although I think I am, and I think it’s
hard not to– but I haven’t heard a peep.
I can’t blame her for coming up with a colorful back-story.
We all love colorful back-stories. They make the strangers we obsess about all
the more interesting, and they’re somehow even more interesting if they allow
us to imagine the strangers we obsess about bare-assed naked and covered with
tattoos. I’ll admit it: if I had a biography or a resume I certainly wouldn’t
hesitate to pad the damn thing with all manner of outrageous fabrications. All
the same, I don’t believe a word of this particular tall tale –don’t believe
Cody was a stripper, don’t believe she was a coal miner, and don’t believe that
she was the night janitor in a crematorium. I don’t even believe she’s from
suburban Kentucky. I mean, seriously people, do you honestly believe there even
is a suburban Kentucky?
There isn’t, but if there were, I can pretty much guarantee
you that sixteen-year-old suburban Kentucky girls wouldn’t be listening to
Patti Smith or the Stooges or Mott the Fucking Hoople. And I hope to God they
wouldn’t be listening to Kimya Dawson and the Moldy Peaches, either, because if
so than the place as I imagine it just got a whole lot more hellish.
My real problems with Juno, I suppose, can be boiled down
to this: If it’s trying to be subversive it doesn’t work. And if it’s not trying to be subversive it doesn’t work either.
There’s too much telling and not enough showing, too much
lazy shorthand about virtually every character, and by the end I don’t feel
like I really know or care about a single person in the entire movie (well,
maybe I cared a little bit about the dad and step-mom, even if they didn’t seem
remotely real to me). The stammering, dorky boyfriend –played by the same
stammering dork who played the same stammering dorky character in Superbad— is, we are told, "cool." He’s in a band. He also, I presume, likes
the same sort of impossibly hip music Juno likes. Yet all we see him do is run
around in shorts and a sweatband. The poor, improbably fertile dork does
nothing but run and run. Is this supposed to be a metaphor? And, yes, one
canned moment of sweetness passes between Juno and the dork, but other than
that the kid doesn’t much seem to understand the gravity of the situation, and
we get absolutely nothing in the way of character development that would allow
us to see him through Juno’s eyes. She just tells us that he’s the coolest guy
she knows, and we pretty much have to take her word for it.
I’d also love to know what’s up with Juno’s best friend. Who
is this girl? Does she not seem like exactly the sort of vacuous nobody that
someone like Juno would openly mock? At any rate, she’s ultimately nothing but
what she seems, because we get exactly nothing about her to form anything but a
And does not Juno have a little sister in this film? Am I
imagining that? And if I’m not imagining it, why does Juno have a little
sister? Why is this kid in the movie? Get rid of her. Let some other movie
adopt her. She serves no purpose.
I’m pretty sure I could go on and on (just as I’m pretty
sure that Diablo Cody –whoever she really is– is going to have a long, fine
career and that her pending horror film will be exactly the sort of riot she’s
most suited to write), but my ultimate problem with Juno was that in the end,
in what felt like a terrible cop-out to me, the cute-as-a-button smartass turns
her baby over to the one pathetic person in the entire film who is most ill-equipped
to live in the world Cody’s characters inhabit.
And as long as we’re on the subject of the Oscars,
and since I know you come here expecting regular, sharp criticism of the
current state of the cinema, I may as well offer some impressions of a couple
of the other nominated films I paid eight dollars to see and did not much
I love Cormac McCarthy. I generally enjoy the Coen Brothers.
And I wish like hell I hadn’t seen No Country For Old Men. It’s like McCarthy
and the Coens teamed up to write an episode of the Andy Griffith Show for the
Deputy rushes into the room,
clearly agitated: Sheriff! A truckload of Mexicans turned up just outside
of town and they’ve been shot all to blazes! You wanna drive out to take a
Sheriff is sitting at a table in
a diner, squinting at the newspaper and shaking his head incredulously.
He hesitates, and doesn’t look up from the paper: No sir, I don’t believe I
In No Country, just as in this country, the world is going
to hell in a hurry. Evil, inexplicably represented by a man with a bad haircut
and a pneumatic cattle zapper, is an unstoppable force. The poor, old,
beleaguered Sheriff just can’t be bothered anymore to do anything but mope
around and offer homespun philosophical ruminations. The crafty Vietnam vet who
finds the satchel of cash comes up with all manner of crafty maneuvers to
outfox his pursuers, yet never thinks to transfer all that money into a
slightly less distinctive –not to mention cumbersome– carrying case. Woody Harrelson shows up and displays
remarkable skills of clairvoyance in locating both the man on the run and the
money, but then –just like that– he’s dead. Then –just like that– pretty much
everybody else is dead as well, except for Evil, which still walks among us
dragging his pneumatic cattle zapper, and the poor, old, beleaguered Sheriff,
who right up to the bitter end offers homespun philosophical ruminations to anybody who’s still alive to listen.
That’s about it. The whole thing looks awfully nice, though,
I’ll give it that.
Ratatouille also looks awfully
nice, but it also sucks. I’m sorry, but I just think it’s a tall order
to make the whole rats-in-the-kitchen thing palatable, particularly
when we’re talking about obnoxious rats, and scads of them. I had a
huge problem with the lazy, jackhammer way Brad Bird and his associates
named their characters –the snobby food critic is named Anton Ego! Get it?
There’s also a Gusteau, a Linguini, a Pompidou, a Django, and a
Skinner. Could you maybe take more than five fucking minutes to name
your characters before we hand you a Best Screenplay nomination? Is
that really asking too much?
And, finally, there’s the sheer ignorance of the main human
character, Remy. Throughout the entire stinking film the guy has a rat on his
head pulling his hair and putting him through all manner of contortions making
the same damn dishes over and over, yet somehow, when the rat disappears, the
moron doesn’t know how to recreate the recipes he’s made hundreds of times?
What the hell?
Somebody in Hollywood –and it might as well be Diablo
Cody– better send me a check for $24, pronto. I’m for damn sure not going to
drag my ass out to see Atonement until they do.