Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) is thoroughly overrated.
I’ve likely made my share of enemies (or friends) by making this statement.
On paper, I should love this film. I am, for one, all about witty banter and bon mot’s being thrown about. I’m a fan of Jason Reitman’s previous film, the über-satire Thank You For Smoking (Reitman, 2004.) I also usually like “indie comedies” as much as an idiotic subgenre distinction that is.
The problem, here, lies in the script. And, in particular, the screenwriter, Diablo Cody.
So, as the above will establish, I speak fluent Internet.
Now, what exactly is the problem with this script? For one, characterization. The vast majority of the characters share far too many diction choices to keep me (at the least, and I hope others) from noticing a few too many similarities.
Two, this is the big thrust here:
NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT. EVER! NOBODY!
Perhaps, if Juno were something of mild or moderate acclaim, I could forgive the flaws of this film. However, this is a film that won an Academy Award for Writing. I find this personally mind-boggling. It might be passable, even better than many.
The problem for me with the writing lies in diction. Almost every character has an extremely thorough vocabulary (throwing words like “shenanigans” at extremely jarring moments,) fast-paced dialogue, and “World Series of Pop Culture” levels of pop culture literacy.
I believe this film could have been about 20x better if: 1) a few more drafts had been attempted; 2) perhaps another writer had been brought on board.
With that in mind, here is my MST3K reading of the Juno screenplay. You can find a copy yourself here www.ellen-page.net/presskits/Juno_Script.pdf:
Following are my notes, before I give up out of depression:
Page 1. Scene 1.
Rule 1: keep your action boxes as small as possible. I try to limit mine to 4 lines. 9 is pushing it, but acceptable. “It’s FALL.” Why is that capitalized? She overdescribes “she winces and shields her eyes from the glare of the sun.” Everything’s a little over-described. And, yes, I graduated college too. But I don’t go throwing around words like “fetid”
Rule 2: Dusk?! Really? Dusk?!
In italics for no real reason.
“We see...” Who sees?
(Examining stick) should be on it’s own line.
“Sound the gong of awkwardness”? Figurative language is find when you’re writing a novel, but screenplays need to be a tad more technical.
Juno’s bit of business here is the first line I’ve actually liked…14 pages in. Despite the fact she’s on a hamburger phone. (In the marginalia should be notes like “Ooh, I’m so quirky!”)
The character of Juno’s father is somewhat troubling to me.
Look at this page of dialogue. There’s nothing quite so exciting as seeing two people talk to each other in large blocks (12 lines?!).
And that’s all I can do with a clean conscience.
I realized I should say something nice about this movie. Structurally, it is passable. I mean, the problems of the first act are set up within the first 20, so she’s got that going for her.
Much like the character yourself, Juno tries SO HARD to convince you how cool and hip and indie it is. However, once you get beyond that, there is literally 0 substance to back it up.
In conclusion, Hamburger Phone, Schmamburger Phone.