Balkin’ Bout My Generation: Juno

Juno (2007) may be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in that it was a limited release independent film turned strong contender for this year’s Academy Awards. (Perhaps there is one every year, with Garden State (2004) preceding both). With just a $7.5 million filming budget, it has grossed over $110 million since.1 Neither director Jason Reitman, nor writer Diablo Cody, both of whom earned individual Oscar nominations, have many film or television credits prior to this. Reitman previously directed the highly lauded comedy, Thank You For Smoking, whereas Juno marks Cody’s first screenplay, prior to which she had made her entry into the spotlight writing about her previous career as a stripper in Minneapolis.

Ellen Page, who garners a Best Actress nomination, plays the spunky title character, Juno in this mix of witty comedy and somewhat tragic drama. “It all started with a chair,” begins Juno’s seemingly reluctant explanation. Confirmed by four pregnancy tests, Juno was impregnated by her timid friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), in the most indifferent manner of fooling around, and now she has to decide what to do about that. Abortion seems like an easy option until a trip to a clinic triggers the gross realization of a cycle of similar indifference on the one hand, and sudden connection with the impending baby on the other, after which Juno decides to go through with the birth. Investigating the perfect couple to adopt the baby when it’s born, Juno finds the Lorings (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) in the Pennysaver and is sure that they possess all those highly desirable qualities of perfection necessary for life’s newcomer. Well, before long she gets to know the couple and realize that behind the vanilla scented candles and khaki color schemes, they’re just as susceptible to life’s problems as anyone else. As time goes on, the end that Juno eventually aspires for is constantly questioned.

Juno has likely (and mistakenly) given a first impression of being an extension of the nonsense nostalgia and amusing absurdity of films like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Eagle v. Shark (2007), which is understandable just considering the advertising paraphernalia alone. The childish mint green lettering atop the tacky orange and white striped background. A puzzled Cera, his pale shapeless legs emphasized by short yellow running shorts, standing next to the more confident-looking, pregnant teenager played well by Page.

Though this is the taboo story of the teen girl who just as nonchalantly endures the pregnancy as she did the act of conception, there is a certain innocence inherent in the film, and especially in the music, which is primarily comprised of tracks from solo folk singer and former Moldy Peaches bandmate, Kimya Dawson. Her playful songs possess a sweet childishness. And yet, the childishness seems to, at points, stall the severity of the situation at hand and any potentially lasting negative consequences for the on-screen characters, though maybe it fits with the character of the movie. Juno is indicative of the “indie” kids, and it’s evident in everything from dialog (Juno’s signal to her father that she is going into labor is “Thundercats are go!”) to recognition of class opposites such as the bland and supressive IKEA-decorated Loring house. Those who continue to cling to nostalgic pop culture and approach more personal subjects like marriage, families, sex, relationships, and child-rearing with just as much cynicism, disdain, or simply indifference, if not more so. So of course, even the taboo story of teens having casual sex and getting pregnant have to be loaded with television references and shoulder-shrugging irony.

There is even room for neat, smile-raising resolutions by the film’s end, and by the final changing of the seasons which mark the new chapters of Juno’s life, Kimya Dawson’s melodic “Tire Swing” is sung by Cera and Page. A momentary, lesson-learning interruption of otherwise routine life, passes. And yet, seemed strangely comfortable almost entirely throughout.


We Felt the Earth Move Under Their Feet: Cloverfield

Cloverfield (2008 ) follows the 2007 releases of I Am Legend (also set in New York City) and The Mist (which uses similar , if not suspiciously identical creatures), and despite some detracting CGI, it is perhaps the most effective.

The story is simple: several friends gathering one evening at a farewell party for their friend are thrust into chaos that suddenly befalls the city (not to give too much away). But, the distinctive crux of director Matt Reeves and writer Drew Goddard’s Cloverfield is authenticity of experience and an advertising strategy built on limiting information. Months before the films opening, the trailers quickly introduced basic characters and abruptly shifted to suggestions of disaster, details of which remained scant. The flying, decapitated head of the Statue of Liberty could, given setting and recent memory, leave audiences with the impression that Cloverfield is a film about a terrorist invasion of New York City. The earliest previews didn’t reveal the films title, and some only hinted devastating action through on-screen and off-screen character reaction.

The film itself is intended to be a first-hand documentation of events shot by the victims of the tragedy who captured it on their digital video camera, triggering warnings to theater patrons that they may experience side-effects from the abundance of shaky footage. And to further create the “authentic experience,” there is no soundtrack manipulating mood (except several minutes after rolling the final credits) and there are no opening credits because, this is supposed to be found footage held by the Department of Defense. There is a time code and a confidentiality disclaimer at the start of the movie. But, perhaps the most realistic narrative elements are the absence of neat resolutions and happy endings as well as the limited explanation of the origins of the invading creatures. If the techniques and technicians were still available, this movie might have done better to abandoned the phony CGI in favor of the sadly obsolete art of miniatures, prosthetic and stop-motion models

The cast, composed of standard WB-esque images of young perfection, were once fairly unknown faces, which at least prevent ruining the attempt to create as much of an “authentic experience” as possible just as it was in movies like the Blair Witch Project (1999), although the filmmakers of Cloverfield had to rely on several other devices, since, unlike Blair Witch, there is no question about the truth of the narrative. New York City obviously wasn’t destroyed by monstrous creatures in real life. The cast were also forbidden from seeing the script until signed onto the project, with screening tests being based on readings of other scripts.

Cloverfield is, most simply, intense and potent and despite the aforementioned trend of recent films of invading creatures and scientific anomolies, it grossed over $16 million on opening day, setting a record for blockbuster earnings in January and receiving critics’ applause. With the limited marketing strategies and secretive production strategy already exhausted in for the first film, it could be suggested that a sequel will be anything less than the ignored subordinate to a much better first film, though lessons may be drawn from the analogous Blair With Project 2:Book of Shadows (2000). But, director Reeves, who spoke on the issue, suggested at least two ideas he envisioned, both dealing with intersections of characters and events and, more importantly, maintaining a sense of “authentic experience” through consistent devices like first-hand footage.