Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The widely praised recent film Juno, which bills itself as an edgy comedy, would be more accurately described as a disturbing psychodrama. The story is ostensibly straightforward: a sixteen-year-old high school student gets pregnant, and decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. The film simply tracks her relationship with her parents, the adopting couple, and the baby's father during her pregnancy.

The problem is that taken at face value, the interactions in the film make no sense. The girl is impossibly self-assured, clinically detached and jaded. She treats the adults around her as equals, if not as inferiors, and the adults, likewise, respond to her as they would a poised, assertive adult--which is what she seems to be, in all respects but her actual age. Moreover, these adults scarcely exist apart from her--their lives seem to revolve around her, as if populating her life were their only purpose. This solipsistic unrealism is quite reminiscent of the film Peggy Sue Got Married, in which a middle-aged woman suddenly wakes up (or perhaps falls into a dream) to find herself back in high school, taking advantage of her knowledge and experience to recognize and correct her youthful mistakes in dealing with various people.

In the latter film, though, the title character eventually reconciles herself to the life she embarked on as a naive youth. Juno, however, hints at a much darker reality: the girl's jaded detachment, as well as several plot elements I'll refrain from revealing, suggest a sexually traumatized twentysomething fantasizing about re-experiencing her vulnerable teen years with the protection afforded by her adult knowledge. And indeed, the film's screenwriter, who goes by the pen-name Diablo Cody, turns out to be (as I suspected while watching the film) a twentysomething woman with what one might describe as sexual "issues"--her major previous work was a diary recounting the aftermath of her decision, on a whim, to give up her secretarial job and become a stripper and peep-show performer.

Granted, I don't know exactly what demons drove Ms. Cody to choose to spend years as a sex-industry worker. But I'd guess that for most audiences, a dramatized depiction of her battle with those demons won't be quite as bracingly comic as Juno's trailer implicitly promises.


JodyT said...

A very sharp bit of criticism!

BUT - come now - was that really a theory you developed while watching "Juno" - and had confirmed afterwards?
Or did you have an inkling of the writer's possible inner back story in advance?

This is not as pointlessly snarky as it appears. I think you're dead right, but I am healthily suspicious of how you came to your conclusion!

Dan Simon said...

That's a perfectly reasonable question, but in fact I'm dead serious--as I was watching the film, I kept thinking, "this isn't a sixteen-year-old-girl--it's a twentysomething woman fantasizing about being a sixteen-year-old girl again." That much was obvious to me from very early on; the sexual pathology revealed itself more gradually, as the plot unfolded. But I looked up the screenwriter's bio after the film--never having heard of her previously--and was as amazed as you evidently are to find just how spot-on my reading was.