Rightwing Film Geek

Not the Goddess of wisdom

juno4.jpg

This is Manohla Dargis in the New York Times disparaging JUNO and it deserves reprinting in full before I tear it to pieces.

I doubt that most moviegoers would prefer the relentlessly honest “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” which involves a young woman seeking an illegal abortion, over “Juno,” an ingratiating comedy about a teenager who carries her pregnancy to term. But I wish they had the choice. “4 Months” is aesthetically bracing, but “Juno” has easy laughs, dodges abortion quicker than a presidential candidate and provides a supremely artful male fantasy. Like “Knocked Up,” it pivots on a fertile hottie who has sex without protection and, after a little emotional messiness (and no scary diseases), delivers one baby and adopts a second, namely the man-child who (also) misplaced the Trojans. Both comedies superficially recall the male wish-fulfillment fantasies of “Sideways,” but without the lacerating adult self-awareness.

Although I like JUNO a lot, I would never say not-liking it (or any other particular movie) is a character flaw or incorrigible taste. But sometimes when you read negative criticism, you just have to wonder — did this critic see the same movie I saw? Is this a case of severe cranio-rectal inversion? Where to begin? And for the record, I do prefer 4 MONTHS (9) to JUNO (8 ).

“Juno” … dodges abortion quicker than a presidential candidate …

Hardly. Aborting is the first thing Juno thinks to do and there are several scenes that last at least a minute or two about that part of her reaction to her pregnancy (the phone call to the girlfriend, outside the clinic, inside the clinic). Given that JUNO, unlike 4 MONTHS, is not a film about having an abortion, but about carrying an unplanned pregnancy to term, I wonder how much more Dargis wanted. Juno considers aborting, decides otherwise and the rest of the movie is about that choice. Why should Juno think about or discuss abortion after she’s decided to give birth? Which is realistic — next time you see a visibly pregnant woman, suggest aborting and see the reaction if you doubt me. (Scott … criticism like Dargis’s are why people think it’s reactionary to depict an unplanned pregnancy being brought to term.)

“Juno” … provides a supremely artful male fantasy.

Huh? Dargis provides more detail about what she means by this later but to name just one obvious fact about JUNO as a whole: if this were a male fantasy, the filmmakers stink because the basically left out the money scene — sex between Juno and boyfriend Paulie. JUNO only has the briefest of not-shot-to-be-erotic sex scenes and if there was any nudity, I’ve already forgotten it.

Further … as I argued in my previous post, JUNO is to a very great extent about Juno’s maturation and realizing that she has an obligation that’s more important than which of the two spouses she’d rather spend time with. And so if KNOCKED UP is a male fantasy based on pregnancy/parenthood’s transformation of a member of that sex, shouldn’t JUNO on those very terms be a “female fantasy.”

juno1.jpg

Like “Knocked Up,” it pivots on a fertile hottie …

Now I’m aware that sexual tastes differ, but I really cannot see any way, shape or form that Juno can be called a “hottie.” I’m not saying Ellen Page is not attractive, but, in this role anyway, she’s hardly even sexual and most of the time is dressed rather emo-schlubbily like in the two photos that accompany this post. JUNO is not at all like KNOCKED UP or SIDEWAYS — where the hotness gaps between Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, and Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen are rather large and obvious. And my point about the lack of erotic turn-on scenes in the movie applies here too — if Juno is supposed to be a “hottie,” the film did a rather poor job of showing her off.

after a little emotional messiness (and no scary diseases)

I realize this is just an aside, but why should Juno have caught a scary disease? Or to be more precise, why is the fact that she doesn’t worthy of a comment in support of the point that JUNO is an risk-underplayed fantasy. There’s no indication that she had slept around. Or that Paulie had (“I didn’t know he had it in him,” in fact). If they were both virgins (which is not in the film, but isn’t an unreasonable inference given how the characters are played), it’s biologically impossible to catch any form of VD. And unless either had a lot of sexual experience for their ages, and the film is not played that way, the odds firmly against it, with the commonest forms of VD also being the mildest (i.e., not “scary”).¹

Don’t get me wrong — I believe sex outside of marriage is always wrong, but not because of the chances of VD, which are small. Certainly, the absence of VD doesn’t turn a movie into a fantasy. (And BTW … isn’t it conservatives who are supposed to want to scare people out of sex? I guess liberals can scare-monger in the name of promoting abortion or, to be precise here, denigrating as unrealistic a movie where a teen doesn’t abort.)

delivers one baby and adopts a second, namely the man-child who (also) misplaced the Trojans

Even apart from Dargis’s ridiculous and degrading description of teen romance as adopting a baby … you still can’t win with feminists.

In literally the very same breath where Dargis denigrates as a “male fantasy” KNOCKED UP, which shows a man growing up upon unexpected fatherhood, she knocks JUNO’s father for staying on the sidelines and remaining the teenager (“man-child”) that … um … he actually was. Also did Dargis realize the very point that my friend’s wife in my previous post did — that at the end Juno dumps a “man-child,” the Jason Bateman character, in deciding which of the divorcing couple she will give her baby to. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t — as long as the consciousness is raised, I guess.

Further … how can JUNO and KNOCKED UP both be male fantasies with respect to their principal subject — pregnancy. In Dargis’s view, do men (1) generally fantasize about sex without children “getting in the way” (in which case, JUNO could fit since the biological father got his orgasm without a baby, and another man left his wife and adoptive fatherhood to continue Peter Pan-ism, but then KNOCKED UP could not); or (2) generally fantasize about fathering children, i.e., sex as patriarchal marking via marriage (in which case, KNOCKED UP could be a male fantasy, but JUNO could not). I’ll let Dargis make up her own mind, but whatever she decides: damned if you do; damned if you don’t — as long as the consciousness is raised, I guess.

There is one logical alternative actually, which allows both films to be “male fantasies.” That is that men want sex, but when children come unexpectedly, the usual (after all, the whole point of calling something a “fantasy” is to say that it’s the kind of event that would be good if it happened, but rarely or never does) male reaction is to abandon the mother. Is that Dargis’s opinion of men, that this is the usual?
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¹ Prevalence rates are highest for high-risk HPV (16 percent of women under 20), but the human papilloma virus is usually asymptomatic (“high-risk” is a relative term), and most of the time that it isn’t, the effects are minor, like genital warts. The worst effect of HPV, cervical cancer, is very rare in a post-Pap era (HPV is a necessary but not sufficient condition) and it doesn’t occur until middle-age anyway, making it irrelevant to JUNO. (One other thing: condoms are only somewhat effective against HPV spread, so HPV can’t be relevant to Dargis’s implication that this has to do with “sex without protection”). As for the “scary” diseases, their combined rates barely top 5 percent prevalence — herpes (1.5 percent of the 14-19 age group, the sexes combined), chlamydia (3 percent of women under 20), gonorrhea (0.65 percent of women under 20) and syphilis (0.0023 percent of women under 20) are all quite rare. Stats for all but herpes are here; for herpes, they are here.

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January 6, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

9 Comments »

  1. Yay! Vic’s blog is back. Haven’t seen the movie yet, so I can’t add to the discussion, except to say that: (1) Goddess is spelled with two ds, and (2) the line about seeing what happens if you suggest that a pregnant woman abort made me chuckle.

    Comment by Adam Villani | January 6, 2008 | Reply

  2. Corrected in head, though I can’t correct in permalink slug … I never get that right because I can’t see why “goddess” should have two d’s (“god” has only one).

    Comment by vjmorton | January 6, 2008 | Reply

  3. Because otherwise it’d be pronounced “Go-dess.” This happens with lots of English suffixes… “fib” becomes “fibbed” or “fibber.”

    Hmm… none of the other entries under “-ess” on dictionary.com use a doubled consonant, but none of them would need to, with the possible exception of “lioness.” The usage is all about sexist/nonsexist use of the suffix, not about consonant doubling.
    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/-ess

    Comment by Adam Villani | January 6, 2008 | Reply

  4. Exactly. I am quite aware that consonants are often doubled before suffixes that start in vowels, but not the -ess ending, though that’s more a function of other changes in the stem word (actor/actress, duke/duchess, e.g.).

    Comment by vjmorton | January 6, 2008 | Reply

  5. Thank you! I completely agree. And I don’t get it: It seems of late that Manohla Dargis has been possessed by Armond White…

    Comment by Zack | January 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. Always fascinating to watch critics fuse their own personal beliefs onto films, even when said films don’t come anywhere close to their value systems. Very telling. And, by the way, critics are there to give potential viewers enough info to decide if a film is worthy their time. She clearly doesn’t take that part of the gig as seriously as she should.

    Comment by Christian Toto | January 9, 2008 | Reply

  7. It seems quite obvious to me that Ms. M. simply has a bee in her bonnet over JUNO’s implicit pro-life message, and this is the real reason for her bitchy review.

    Comment by Andy Nowicki | January 9, 2008 | Reply

  8. Firstly, your full review of Juno is one of the more insightful readings I’ve seen thus far. Thank you for that.

    Second, Bleeker is actually noted as a virgin in the film– in one of their later scenes he confesses to still having her underwear, she replies, “I still have your virginity.”

    Comment by J Munoz | January 14, 2008 | Reply

  9. I hope you won’t be tainted by a compliment from a wildly divergent ideologue. I believe in feminism, I’m liberal, but I think you nailed this and Dargis is an idiot in her criticism. But there are two points here. First, Dargis is a malcontent who seems obsessed with becoming Pauline Kael’s new incarnation while not realizing that it takes more than being cantankerous. Second, as a feminist, I realize there’s a good bit of thrashing in the movement today. The desire to affirm choice requires tolerance of those choices. So, Juno’s call should be acceptable. But, there are calls that some feminists would like to anoint. Now, I’m just a guy, but I’ll call BS.

    I will close with saying that I think Knocked Up definitely soft-peddles the abortion matter. Heigl’s decision is so hidden from the audience that it simply ignores the matter. But, as you allude, the movie isn’t really for women. It’s about the man’s exploration. And that’s not so bad to explore either.

    Comment by Samir | February 14, 2008 | Reply


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