I can’t help but worry about how Juno will be remembered, at the end of the metaphorical day. What did I remember about it, before a re-watch to write this blog post?
I remembered the first time I saw it: what cinema, approximately what seat, what I did afterwards (ran hyper in the direction of a club, giggling, to an evening which I believe included me supping a spilt drink off the floor). I even remembered, more or less, when about my – at the time, newly – lovely girlfriend saw it (not with me).
I remembered the dialogue, obviously. That Holmeskillet exchange with that guy from the American Office. How fast it was, how saturated with pop-culture references, how ‘quirky’…
…And then I remembered all the ‘quirky’ films that came after. It feels responsible, now, for the shading of quirkiness into something with similar connotations to ‘wacky’. But in the innocent days of early 2008, it genuinely felt like something we’d been waiting for: a romantic comedy here the romantic lead was the skinny nerdy Michael Cera; soundtracked by Belle & Sebastian and Kimya Dawson. A romantic comedy without many jokes or comic setpieces, and that didn’t revolve around a single will they/won’t they relationship… A romantic comedy that wasn’t a romcom, really.
So we come to my worries: that this is how it will be remembered, forever. As something twee and quirky and ‘indie’ in the same way the Pigeon Detectives are.
But it’s not: the quirkiness works to make the world feel crafted, in a way you rarely see outside of fantasy. Most shots have multiple elements competing to grab your eye. Bedrooms aren’t simply cluttered, they’re over-saturated, which rings pretty much true of the Juno kind of girl.
It isn’t just floatily whimsical. All that could be described as whimsy is there for a reason: Juno is, after all, a film about contrast. Between Juno and the adoptive parents Mark and Vanessa. Their home is designed white and minimalist. There’s a bit where Juno goes up their stairs, to find a succession of three photos of the couple in what can be only be described as garments, so glowingly white they meld together. That’s the only decoration in the public bit of their house. Compare and contrast with Juno’s collection of ‘My Name Is…’ stickers. (Mark Loring himself falls directly in the middle. His room is all deep browns, full of comics and guitars.)
The Mark Loring stuff is probably the best example of how Juno isn’t just some silly bit of quirky fluff. He’s a really likeable character – with loads of signifiers of being cool, the aforementioned guitars and comics… he’s played by Jason Bateman for God’s sake! – but, ultimately, he’s a creepy old man. The scenes where he seems tempted by Juno are presented as kind of sweet, maybe even romantic, but looking back, at the end of the film, shows that all up. This a fully-grown married man, seriously considering being … sexually active, as the grown-ups of Juno’s world would put it … with a 16 year-old pregnant girl.
And then there’s the soundtrack, which is difficult not to remember fondly: if nothing else, it introduced me to the Sonic Youth cover of Superstar, which is one of my favourite songs. And then there’s Juno herself: one of those perfect cinema creations, made infectious by Ellen Page. It’s all in way she chews over the words and phrases she’s given, and the little nose-wrinkles and unexpected gestures.
It’s easy to forget how beautifully shot it all is, how colourful and tightly edited Reitman made it all, and how intentionally constructed it feels. It’s full of perfect Simpsons-esque cutaways, which I’d totally forgotten… The bottom line is: before I rewatched Juno, I was hesitant about its place on the list. As I watched it again, for probably the first time since those two or three viewings in ’08, I wondered if it maybe shouldn’t be higher.