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Survival of the Hippest.


LAST FALL, I received a half-dozen invitations to screenings of a "quirky" comedy about a "whip-smart" pregnant teen hipsterette who plans to give her baby up for adoption by an affluent couple. With my finger planted firmly nowhere near the pulse of popular opinion, I tossed each one out, thinking, "To listen to teens with attitude, for this I need to leave the house?"

So, in the wake of "Juno's" Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director (Jason Reitman of "Thank You for Smoking"), Actress (petite 20-yearold Ellen Page), and Original Screenwriter ("Diablo Cody," which is the pole name of 29-year-old self-promoter Brook Busey, whose confessional blog became popular when she started working as a stripper), I ended up paying to see it.

Juno, a cute tomboy who dresses in flannel shirts like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and has a snarky pop-culture reference ready for every situation, turned out to be just as insufferable as I had expected. If she's so whip-smart, why did she get so pregnant after one evening with a bright but baffled cross-country runner (the subversively blond and bland Michael Cera from "Superbad") with whom she says she's just friends?

Fortunately, my wife, who admired "Juno" greatly, patiently explained to me the film's considerable subtleties until even my clueless male brain could begin to grasp them.

First, though, let's dispose of the controversy over the purported politics of "Juno." Is Juno betraying feminism by choosing adoption over abortion? Sure. Yet there's no mystery why Hollywood heroines (as in the recent "Knocked Up" and "Waitress") almost never have abortions: because babies are adorable and abortions are hideous. Nobody--including, and perhaps especially, pro-choice ideologues--wants to think visually about abortion.

What is interesting is how Cody's semi-autobiographical screenplay undermines teen-movie status cliches about attractive but moronic jocks and cheerleaders lording it over the brilliant but socially oppressed outcasts who presumably get their revenge by moving downtown and writing screenplays about high school.

This conventional dichotomy between the successful versus the cool is embodied in the infertile couple that Juno finds to adopt her baby. Jennifer Garner plays the yuppie wife who maintains a spotless McMansion in a gated community while also working long hours in a corporate career. Jason Bateman is her slacker husband, a grunge guitarist turned advertising jingle composer who sees in Juno a kindred spirit with whom he can debate whether the greatest year in rock music history was 1977 (the Sex Pistols and the Clash) or 1993 (Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville").

Indeed, Juno's personality appears modeled on Phair's complex combination of masculine power-chording indie cred, feminine inner self, and shocking statements calibrated to draw notice. That's only natural because the screenwriter was 16 and living in Chicago's suburbs when Phair's second album "Whip-Smart" came out. Phair was everything Cody must have wanted to be: famous, hip, talented, sexy, and living downtown in Wicker Park, the "Guyville" where all the cool guys in Chicago punk bands hung out.

As Garner's adoptive mother-to-be obsesses over which shade of medium yellow to paint the nursery, her husband starts to feel like an exile in girlville. Talking to a maverick like Juno makes him wonder whether he should move back downtown and get a loft.

Yet the one thing today's youth hates more than being uncool is parents divorcing. When it comes to raising her baby, Juno realizes, being a soulless corporate drone is a good thing. Kids these days want parents to be boring. The shock helps Juno begin to understand herself better.

As "Juno" reveals, the run-of-the-mill teen nonconformist is, as the screenwriter finally realized about herself in college, "a noisy, dramatic attention whore." Cody is too recognition-starved to stick to the party line about how the alterna-kids are free spirits. Instead, she's made herself a celebrity by spilling the beans about punkette girls like herself and Juno. Why do they tell guys that their three favorite bands are (to quote Juno) "Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Patti Smith, and the Runaways?" Because, to over-generalize, pretending to obsess over old pop culture minutiae makes smart boys notice them and it gives shy boys something to talk about with them.

So why did Juno get pregnant? The same reason: for attention. At her middle-class school, high-IQ pregnant girls giving their babies up for adoption are as interesting to the masses as ivory-illed woodpeckers.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
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Title Annotation:Juno
Author:Sailer, Steve
Publication:The American Conservative
Article Type:Movie review
Date:Feb 11, 2008
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