Friday, December 14, 2007

Swimming against the tide - Juno what I mean?

When Napoleon Dynamite came out, lots of people raved about it and said that it was the funniest movie they'd seen in years. I waited until it came out on DVD before trying to watch it and then I could only make it a few minutes before it became one of those very rare films that I could not bear to watch a moment longer. I watched it wanting to laugh, hoping to laugh, but mostly just wondering why anyone thought the movie was funny. It was just painful to watch.

Juno is no Napoleon Dynamite. But it's also one of those movies that's funny in parts, but overall it's just a bad film. I can't blame the actors for it being bad, they all did a great job with what they were given. I can point to two problems that made Juno a bad film and they are the screenplay by "Diablo Cody" and a soundtrack of quirky songs.

Kara and I saw the film at a sneak preview about two weeks ago, not knowing much about the film before we started watching it. Once I realized that it was the new film by Jason Reitman, director of Thank You for Smoking (which I consider one of the best films of the last several years), I had high hopes. Those hopes plummeted as soon as the songs started. Instead of enhancing the story or moving it forward, the songs served only as a distraction from what was happening on screen. I'm not against using pop songs in movies when they serve the movie, but here it seems they were just trying to fill in dead spots in the action with songs whose lyrics were supposed to be as witty as the dialog.

And, Ugh, the dialog! It's one thing to have a witty character or two where ever word that character speaks is sparkling, subversive, or charming, but it's another thing entirely when every single actor in the movie, even the clerk at the local convenience store (in a cameo by Rainn Wilson) sounds like a hipster or the wittiest person you'll ever hope to know. Plus, all of the characters in the movie are one-dimensional. The only exceptions are Michael Cera as the put-upon boyfriend/father-of-the-baby, who is still drawn in one dimension, but whose character is the opposite of witty, and Ellen Page as Juno, who gets to go from point A to point B (character-wise) in an utterly predictable fashion.

The thing that amazes me, though, is how practically every other critic in the world absolutely loves this movie. As I type this, Rotten Tomatoes lists Juno as 94% fresh with a simply unbelievable 100% for the "cream of the crop". Even Duncan Shepherd of the San Diego Reader liked Juno enough to give it 3 stars, one of only 10 films he gave 3 stars to this year (with only one other film this year, No Country For Old Men, granted more stars than 3). And actually, after reading through several of the "rotten" reviews, it seems that the people that didn't like the movie didn't like it for pretty much the same reason as I've given above - that the dialog is insufferable. Is this just another case of the inability of the masses to recognize bad choices in filmmaking? Will this be yet another movie that people will look back at many years from now and say, "What the hell was I thinking?"

I just don't get it. Of course, this isn't the first time I've been in the minority opinion on films. Here's a few others:
  • Peggy Sue Got Married - Horrible film, nominated for several Academy Awards
  • Forrest Gump - Terrible, also nominated and won six Oscars
  • Chicago - Just didn't work for me.
  • Independence Day - For this one, I go the other way - sure, the plot was ridiculous, but it was a good, thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the unforgivable sin committed by the makers of Juno: they put father and son Bluth (Jason Bateman and Michael Cera) in the same film and don't give them any scenes together. Oh the humanity.

Best movies I've seen this year so far... The King of Kong and No Country For Old Men.