Sweetness and light, with irony intact
Considering its competition, “Juno’s” inclusion in the best picture category makes absolutely no sense.
The film doesn’t contain a single violent death. It comes to the screen not from a revered novelist or veteran screenwriter, but rather a twentysomething blogger in between posts. It’s buttressed by music from a dorm-folk duo whose only previous claim to fame is titled “Who’s Got the Crack.” And the closest it veers toward social commentary is its tacit endorsement of hurling doughnuts at the screen during “Yours, Mine and Ours.”
Yet there it is, not only filling the recently minted “quirky indie comedy” slot of the nominations, but also showing up in the acting, directing and screenplay categories.
And in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.
While a number of films prematurely tagged for Oscar attention quickly derailed, “Juno” has been running along a steady track of upward mobility. It scored huge early raves at Toronto and Telluride, then did an extended victory lap of smaller festivals while accumulating more positive press than any unreleased low-budget comedy should have a right to. By the time the film opened wide on Christmas Day (subsequently spilling wider), it was already a certifiable hit. With a trajectory like that, multiple Oscar nominations were the logical next stop.
But the film’s success is about more than just canny marketing. Despite the potentially delicate subject of teenage pregnancy, Diablo Cody’s script, her feature debut, never succumbs to didacticism or luridness, and her idiosyncratic voice incorporates heavy notes of MySpacese and pop-culture snarkery in a way that’s never condescending. It has a breakout star in Ellen Page, and director Jason Reitman’s unobtrusive comic touch here is miles removed from the Juvenalian body blows of his debut, “Thank You for Smoking.”
Most importantly, “Juno” manages to appeal to widely diverse sensibilities without pandering to any of them. Its sweetness and happiest of endings co-exists organically with its irony; its ultimate embrace of family life and personal responsibility is all the more poignant for being so clearly uncalculated.
Of course, none of this alters the fact that “Juno” is still the odd duck in this category. Stacked up against the visionary intensity or the formal mastery of some of the other contenders, “Juno” is probably dealing with films way beyond its maturity level. But its place on the ballot is worthy recompense for proving that movies needn’t be serious to be important, that sentiment needn’t be sentimental, and that wise-ass cynics have feelings, too.