Rightwing Film Geek

Not the Goddess of wisdom

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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.” Continue reading

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January 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 9 Comments

The Goddess of wisdom

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JUNO (Jason Reitman, USA, 2007) — 8

JUNO began as an at-festival add to my Toronto schedule (based on sky-high buzz filtering in from the Telluride Festival) and the subject of conflicting advice — Noel Murray was convinced I’d hate it, based on my famously low tolerance for Indiewood emo quirkfests; Josh Rothkopf thought I would like it, noting that I’d loved Reitman’s THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and adding that he’d want to discuss the film’s portrayal of abortion with me. But the only time I could see it was only one hour after the start of ATONEMENT. I got a ticket anyway planning to leave ATONEMENT midway through if it wasn’t working. Well … that plan to see JUNO didn’t work out. So, I saw it last week … and Josh is correct. I even upgraded the film from a 7 to an 8 sitting in my memory and after a conversation with a colleague at work (more on that shortly).

To state the obvious stuff: Diablo Canyon’s script about an unexpectedly pregnant teen girl who searches for the perfect parents for her unborn child is more than just very funny. It’s also smart in how teens talk — constantly smart-alecky, but also self-deprecating, i.e., smart-aleckness applied to oneself. And that’s the other key to the film’s success. Juno (unlike, say, Enid in GHOST WORLD, the kind of movie Noel knew I hate) is a *lovable* character because her wit isn’t just bile directed out at a world she looks down on as beneath her.

mcdormand.jpgIn fact, Juno may be the most memorably lovable character in an American movie since Marge in FARGO, another pregnant woman (though pregnancy is merely a fact about Marge, not the movie’s (surface) subject like here). Like Frances McDormand, Ellen Page’s open-faced performance creates a fundamentally good person, albeit a very sassy one, and Page’s ease in tossing off all the sarcastic barbs in Canyon’s script erases all hint of Hallmark saccharinity. Nothing here about motherhood as a sacred calling or anything like that, but I would go so far as to say Juno is what Generation Y virtue looks like.

Continue reading

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Thank you for mailing

My bud Adam Villani wrote to me, demanding to know why I love THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, which he called

[A]n unfunny, obvious satire that might have been timely about 15-20 years ago but just seems like kicking a man (or an industry) when he’s already beaten now. The only defense of this movie I can think of is that it is “not about smoking.” I mean, yeah, OK, but that is kinda ruined by the fact that it is about smoking and it would be pretty obvious even if it weren’t about smoking…

Well, as Adam hypothesizes, the film fundamentally is not about smoking per se. It’s about politics, about sophists and bullshit artists. About their charm and our regard for them. At the end of the movie, Naylor has a completely different shill job, and it doesn’t feel like anything has changed. Yet, like the greatest intellectual jujitsu artists (I think I am one), not only has he turned on a dime cause-wise, but he’s even turned on a dime argument-wise, by granting that smoking is dangerous and then getting what he wants (on labeling) based on arguments he was denying five minutes ago (that smoking is harmful).

I used the word “bullshit” deliberately — THANK YOU FOR SMOKING is the equivalent of Harry Frankfurt’s short philosophical book “On Bullshit,” which also verges on the edge of self-parody and self-referentiality, but thus is made more effective becuase of the audience’s desire for bullshit and ability to see through it and yet not really care (the difference Frankfurt draws between “bullshit” and “lies”). This is why Aaron Eckhart’s performance is perfect … a word I use rarely .. it’s not simply that he had Nick Naylor’s greasy charm down pat, but that the charm and style and existing persona so utterly defines the performance, an analog to why Naylor only exists because of our love for that charm and our need to be bullshitted. There’s elements of Henry’s interview with “Hillary” near the start of PRIMARY COLORS (and yes, he uses the same b-s word, which is why I was reminded of it):

I was always curious how it would be to work with someone who actually cared about … I mean, it couldn’t have always been the way it is now. It must have been very different when my grandfather was alive. Hey, you were there. You had Kennedy. I didn’t. I’ve never heard a president use words like destiny and sacrifice without thinking, “bullshit.” And, O.K., maybe it was bullshit with Kennedy too, but people believed it. And, I guess, that is what I want. I want to believe it too.

Or … read Michael Gerardi, who did a lot of the heavy lifting a few weeks ago, though I liked the movie more than he did.
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Also, read Adam’s take on why the Democrats have all the secular advantages for the mid-terms including the ability to run against an incumbent president mired in an unpopular war, but still might blow it. They can only talk in “motherhood and apple pie” terms:

[I]f they can’t come up with any more compelling reasons for people to vote for them than this, they aren’t gonna win control of squat … Thanks for taking that bold step to show America that there’s a good reason to vote for the Democrats besides “we’re not George Bush.” Man, that’s sad. Can’t the Democrats find somebody with a modicum of charisma or strong ideas?

What also further resonated with me was Adam’s commenters and the way they called the platform the equivalent of “XXX Against Cancer” or “Children Must Eat” monikers. There was a famous and possibly apocryphal (but nevertheless very revealing) exchange that supposedly occurred between the two greatest silent clowns at the home of one of them, when discoursing on politics (quoting from memory):

Charlie Chaplin: What I want is that every child should have clothes on their backs, enough to eat and a roof over their heads.
Buster Keaton: But Charlie, do you know anybody who doesn’t want that?

Ever since, it’s never mystified me why I preferred Keaton to Chaplin. In college, I saw a flyer for a rally for a group called “Students Against War” and I decided I would never back any group that had a name that you couldn’t imagine a sane person taking the semantically opposing opinion. (I also decided in grad-school that I could never buy Thomism because the first precept of the natural law struck me similarly.)

August 3, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment