Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Honest to Blog Truth

Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007) is thoroughly overrated.

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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.

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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!

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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?!

Scene 2.
In italics for no real reason.

Scene 3.
“We see...” Who sees?

Page 4
Scene 9.
(Examining stick) should be on it’s own line.

Page 12:
“Sound the gong of awkwardness”? Figurative language is find when you’re writing a novel, but screenplays need to be a tad more technical.

Page 14:
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!”)

Page 15:
The character of Juno’s father is somewhat troubling to me.

Page 21:
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.

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In conclusion, Hamburger Phone, Schmamburger Phone.

5 comments:

Mihae said...

seriously agreed.

Don@PetalumaFilms.com said...

Seriously DISagree and here's why.

1. overly hyper/stylized language in films has been around forever. Do you really think Jimmy Cagney went to Sunday dinner at moms going "Look here see...pass the gravy or I'll give ya what for see!" Do you think there were newspaper men (and women) who talked like the characters in HIS GIRL FRIDAY talk? I also think this kind of over-stylized talkiness can be applied to most film noirs.

What about the Jules character in PULP FICTION? Have you ever heard a person say "well allow me to retort" prior to that film. Nobody talks that way either.

2. Diablo Cody is an annoying twat, yes. Buuuut....

2a. It's not like she invades your space...you kind of have to seek out her blog, interviews and appearances on TV to really get annoyed by her. Cody seems like a victim of this current age of information where you can seek anyone out and continue to get totally annoyed by them...if you choose to do so.

2b. While she eventually did annoy me to the point of finally ignoring her, kudos for a woman screenwriter to get out there and get some notice for herself. It's unfortunate she had to be a former sex worker (stripper/phone sex op) but still, women screenwriters not named Ephron are few and far between.

I think JUNO is a fine little film that is the unfortunate victim of backlash due to (and no offense to you, Derek) a bunch of net film nerds who went into the film looking to see how overrated it is. This is what passes for "film criticism" today in most circles (and again, I'm not saying you Derek, although I bet you went in fearing the worst).

I liked it the first time I saw it (and felt the dialogue mellowed as the film progressed) and watched it last week on DVD. It's a tight screenplay-in fact I think it's a great example of excellent structure-and it's got some extremely fine, nuanced moments. I actually attribute those to Reitman but I also think it started with a fine script.

So...neener :-P

don

Michelle C. said...

I could pull down my undies right now and piss on that above comment.

I totally agree with you Derek.

I watched it simply because I thought it would be a great movie, not because I was looking to see "how overrated" it was annnnd no. just no.

Anybody who thought THAT was an oscar worthy screenplay could kiss my ass.

WELL DONE DEREK!! ANOTHER AMAZING CRITIQUE!!!

Jenni said...

I'm all for stylized dialogue, but cramming pop culture references into your script just because you can does not, in my opinion, make a good screenplay... it's just not original.

Don@PetalumaFilms.com said...

I agree, Jenni. JUNO is just like that other movie where a teenage girl bones the love of her life, gets pregnant, can't abort because she has real, human feelings, finds an adoptive family who's patriarch soon backs out but then the teen gives up the baby anyway.

You know what they call a quarter-term abortion in Paris? Wait, I was going to answer that but my point is made...maybe. Selena...where are you???