ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Juno and Teen Movies (No Real Spoilers)

So I finally made it out to see Juno last night, and it's an interesting movie. A funny, sweet little film, with a great, star-making performance by Ellen Page.

Is it groundbreaking and a superior example of screenwriting?

Not really. The script is fairly solid, but the story is really rather wispy. For all her charm, Juno (the character) really doesn't have much of a story, or much in the way of dramatic goals.

It's a movie I wish I'd discovered without the hype, and without the trailers/commercials spoiling so many scenes for me. But which I can still happily recommend.

Will it save teen movies?

Maybe.

It'll certainly give them a chance for a comeback.

Because Juno is quickly becoming a phenomenon. It seems headed towards $100 million at the U.S. box office; it will careen past the halfway mark today, as part of the $15 million or so it'll make this weekend.

And I guarantee, right now all the studios are dusting off all of their well-written (and, sadly, probably a few not-so-well-written) teen-driven scripts, which people liked but never got made because no one thought they'd actually make any money.

Largely because they didn't think that teenage boys, who are generally seen to drive the market, didn't want to see them.

But Juno breaks the mold. It's a movie that is a hit despite the fact that most teenage boys are unlikely to really like it: it doesn't have big, broad laughs or easy answers, it features a female character who doesn't take her clothes off, it deals with some serious, dramatic story points from a female POV.

And it's making a lot of money anyway. Hoo-rah.

I've read a lot -- A LOT -- of bad teenage scripts in the past two decades, too many of which trot out the same old stereotypes -- snotty cheerleaders, beautiful jocks, the male teen lead who wants to be with the hottest girl in school, his cute female best friend who he finally realizes at the end he should be with.

Teenagers aren't that easy to put into boxes (watch the TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which is also currently doing a great job breathing life into teen characters), and ultimately that goes to the core of what makes JUNO work. Because Juno really is a fascinating, interesting character, a smart, sardonic girl who really doesn't have all the answers and is lost in the situation she finds herself in.

When I was a reader for Miramax (the first incarnation, before it exploded), I covered (and championed) a great short story called "Keith", by Ron Carlson, a well-written teen-centric tale, one of the best comic/dramatic teen romances I've ever read.

Miramax put it into development, didn't hire me to write it (I took a shot, but didn't have a chance in hell), had someone else write what turned out to be a very solid script, but it died in development hell anyway. Obviously because the number-crunchers told them it was a bad bet.

Hopefully Juno proves that well-done tales featuring teen characters can click at the box office, and movies like "Keith" will finally get their chance.

26 Comments:

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Brett said...

Not specifically taking YOU to task, but I'm wondering what people ever really claimed or thought that JUNO was a superior example of screenwriting or somehow groundbreaking. I've seen more than a few people (and again, not talking about you-- your post just gave me reason and opportunity to crystallize some thoughts on the topic) who seem to be having a weird backlash against the script (and moreso against the scriptwriter) with comments like "well, it wasn't THAT great..." or "I don;t see what all the fuss is about-- it's good, but not greatest ever."

I think it's a really sweet and smart movie, and easily one of my favorite movie experiences in recent years. No, I don;t think it's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or GODFATHER or CITIZEN KANE< but I found it thrilling and inspiring to see a first time writer manage to get a smart emotionally engaging and satisfying project onto the screen without having to spice it up with tits and ass and twenty-eight uses of "fuck". That we saw parents acting (gasp!) concerned and committed and honorable. That we saw kids acting (double gasp!) reasonably smart and earnest.

And clearly there is an audience out there which was (is!) thrilled to find these same things.
.
.

B

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Like I said, the script is solid, and writer Diablo Cody is getting a lot of attention for her dialogue (and, yeah, her stripper past).

And it does a lot of things well, including having a great female teen character driving the plot, and well-drawn adults popping up along the way.

But without the great acting that really makes this movie sing, the story is only a couple of levels over Afterschool Special stuff.

And I'm saying that despite the fact that I like the movie s lot, and I think Diablo Cody should ride her fame as far as she can; I'm all for writers-as-celebrities.

I just think the movie succeeds despite some weak story points in general.

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Tavis said...

The success of Juno makes me wonder if aspiring screenwriters should focus less on creating a solid, well-structured script, and more on voice and overall tone-- that to me was what people are responding to with Juno-- not the dynamics of the story, but the "world" of the movie. Right from the wonderful credit sequence done by Shadowplay Studios (which you can watch online) the movie gives you a specific mood which is carried out through most of the film. I guess what I'm saying is I liked the tone and mood of the film more than any particular scene or bit of dialog. Although there is one line from the script that didn't make it into the film that I felt completely summed up Diablo Cody's first-time screenplay:

JUNO
What was that? I’m sorry,
I’m on my hamburger phone and it’s
kind of awkward to talk on. It’s
really more of a novelty than a
functional appliance
.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Haven't seen "Juno" yet, but it sounds like a must see.

If Hollywood wants a smart teen flick, they should contact ME. I've written a GREAT teen flick, that's been waiting for the teen market to heat up. It's called "Revenge of the Fat Chicks." It's "Porkys" meets "Mean Girls." "Revenge of the Fat Chicks" has a strong female protagonist, who defects from the ranks of the popular to crusade for the rights of the most despised girls in her high school. "Revenge of the Fat Chicks" has some laughs, it has some heart, AND it respectfully depicts the plight of a neglected sector of a high school sub-grouping that's been ignored in the movies.

Anyway, if the fish are biting, I'm ready with reel in hand...

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
At 1:47 PM, Blogger Christina said...

But Juno breaks the mold.

Not necessarily. I think the movie hits the same demographic that John Hughes nailed with the Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink -- the teen girl and HER PARENTS. I was 16 when I saw Sixteen Candles in the theater and my mother laughed harder than I did because the parents were so well depicted. Juno does that too, so it rises above being just a great teen movie (like Mean Girls and Bring It On) and succeeds for adult audiences too.

Also, about the story being wispy, kind of reminds me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding - that was a wispy story too. Biggest indie box office ever. Sometimes, I think those of us who write and read and analyze for a living overestimate the sophistication of the AVERAGE movie viewer. Maybe a small story isn't such a bad thing.

I think the director of Juno, Jason Reitman, should be given a huge congrats for his great direction. I read the script a couple days before I saw the film and was impressed by how the film embodied the voice in the script.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Scott -- your post gets me thinking...

I liked Juno a lot when I saw it, and I had none of the hype in mind (since I saw it as a preview just before it opened). To me the strength of the film was not only in its voice but also in its characters. Even the more minor characters had a depth and complexity to them that made the film superior to 99% of first-time screenplays, and many scripts by more experienced writers.

But what your post really got me thinking about was that to me, Juno was not really a "teen" movie. It appealed to me on adult terms, and I'm actually curious what the demographics of the audiences have been. Some I've heard from feel that the dialogue and tone don't ring true to "real" teens, and I wonder how they are receiving it. I would actually not be surprised if this film is drawing heavily on adults who see Juno as a reflection of the character maybe they wish they once were.

Don't know. Just the thoughts that popped into my head.

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, when I call it a "teen movie", I'm referring more to "movie featuring teens" than "movie for teens", though there are a lot of people out there who think in general that they are the same thing.

I agree, I bet the audience for Juno so far is largely adult.

 
At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI, the script (along with several others) can be downloaded from the Fox Searchlight website.

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/awards/

 
At 8:26 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

Wasn't SUPERBAD about teens?

I liked JUNO, thought it had great characters and witty dialogue... and kind of skimped on story. You could hardly tell she was pregnant - the story wasn't really about that. The story was more of an excuse for the scenes.

This is not a slam, but I think JUNO is this year's LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE - a funny sit-commy movie disguised as an indie. That JUNO was #3 over the weekend doesn't surprise me - ATONEMENT at #10 is kind of surprising. ATONEMENT at #3 would have me confused for months. ATONEMENT is an art house movie - and a good one - but too serious for mainstream audiences.

JUNO is perfect for mainstream audiences - they get to feel like they're watching an edgy indie film - but it's funny and filled with characters we like. With it's "pork spears" it's not that different than SUPERBAD. But JUNO is "edgy" and SUPERBAD is "raunchy". Same kid of jokes, though.

- Bill (edgy *and* raunchy)

 
At 9:31 AM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

I definitely agree about the script - haven't seen the movie. It is well-written but it leaves a lot unexplored, like the relationship between Juno and Paulie.

It also didn't seem to have act breaks, but then Diablo says she never read a screenwriting book.

But I'm glad it's doing well as I specialize in female driven stuff. But only when they're not cheerleaders, snotty dramatists or "girlfriends" of the male star.

 
At 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense, EC, but your script sounds like shit.

 
At 6:12 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

I'm going to have to disagree that most teenage boys are unlikely to like it. My sons and their buds think it's the greatest film this past year second only to Superbad. Not the reaction I expected at all, but as one told me, "If it was out on DVD, I'd buy two right now just in case something happened to the first one."

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

That's cool, MaryAn. How old is your son?

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger Laura Reyna said...

Great comments...

I've only read the script but have to agree with Scott's assessment. The story is very thin-- & the Pauly/Juno romance didn't work for me.

A lot of my reservations about JUNO come from the hype (along w/ reading the script). I've seen way too many movies that have been praised to high heaven (Lost in Translation, Little Miss Sunshine, etc) that turn out to be so-so or outright duds. I don't get sucked in anymore. And this includes big movies like THERE WILL BE BLOOD as well... 90% of the "great" movies aren't really that great.

Agree with the point that just like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, it's a pretty conventional story. There's really nothing groundbreaking or subversive about it. We've seen snarky teens before in HEATHERS & GHOST WORLD. Tarantino mined the pop reference stuff a long time ago. And I find stories about pregnant teens more trite than "fresh".

Agree it's adults & not teen boys who are fueling its success. JUNO is being percieved as a FAMILY movie, not as a teen movie. The char of Juno is dealing with adult issues & interacting mostly with adults, not her peers. A true teen movie has teens doing teen stuff with other teens.

If there's going to be a continued resurgence of teen movies (started by Amer Pie, I guess), it's going to be b/c of SUPER BAD, not Juno. Juno will be considered an anomaly.

Hate to be cynical, but I don't think Juno is going to help female writers or push movies w/ female teen protags into production. I just don't see that much evidence that HW is getting any more pro- female. This is going to help Diablo Cody (& others involved), but unless there are a couple more GIRL teen movies that are big hits next summer, this movie is going to end up just a passing blip. It will be remembered for launching Cody's screenwriting career, not for starting a trend.

 
At 12:41 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Laura,

Just wondering, were you saying There Will Be Blood is overrated? I wasn't sure from your post if you had seen it or not, or if you were just naming a movie with some hype.

By the way, There Will Be Blood is not overhyped. Movies with endless commercials that lack any substance (like Transformers, or crap like Norbit) are overhyped. A movie like There Will Be Blood is just fighting for it's life, knowing it won't make a ton of money. They have to rely on the reviews to stand a chance at making any money.

There Will Be Blood is quite possibly the best movie of the last few years.

 
At 8:12 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Scott, the oldest is 24 and he loves it too (seen it twice) but I was referring to the 18 and and 14 year old boys who think Juno rocks. Yeah, I started having sons when I was Juno's age...

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger Laura Reyna said...

Matt--

No I haven't seen THERE WILL BE BLOOD yet. Just read some reviews. I mentioned it b/c it just won a couple big awards. I was speaking more in terms of the general hype some movies get & how the majority or those movies are disappointing TO ME.

Example: THE DEPARTED

That movie got great reviews, big box office, lots of awards, AA for Best picture.

I was disappointed when I saw it. Thought it had a bunch of problems: too long, too many char's, 2 protags I couldn't relate to, overwrought, Nicholson's grandstanding was annoying, weak female interest, too obvious last shot...

But I admit, I'm a tough audience. I also found Crash, Million Dollar Baby disappointing. Like i said 90% of the movies hyped as "great" really aren't, IMO.

"There Will Be Blood is quite possibly the best movie of the last few years."

Your above quote is what I'm talking about. I've read other reviews that say it starts out good but the ending is a letdown. The movie doesn't hold together for some people.

But I'll still see it, along with JUNO. I see most films labeled as "quality" (whether arty or mainstream). I know there's still a chance I'll find a gem in there somewhere.

 
At 12:46 PM, Blogger Matt said...

"But I admit, I'm a tough audience. I also found Crash, Million Dollar Baby disappointing. Like i said 90% of the movies hyped as "great" really aren't, IMO."

And what are some great movies of the past two or three years, in your opinion?


"Your above quote is what I'm talking about. I've read other reviews that say it starts out good but the ending is a letdown. The movie doesn't hold together for some people."

I'm not hyping a movie. I'm giving my opinion on it. I have nothing to really gain from talking it up, it's an honest, unbiased opinion. Since when did that become hype?

As for those that don't like the ending, they are probably the retarted step cousins of the morons that didn't get the ending of No Country For Old Men. The ending of Blood is brutal, and somewhat unexpected, but it is powerful and leaves an impact. How many movies make a real impact?

 
At 12:58 PM, Anonymous bianca said...

Matt,

No need to get defensive. Were you an investor in the film or something? Laura was just trying to state an opinion.

Anonymous,

that comment about E.C.'s script was rude and uncalled for.

 
At 1:01 PM, Blogger Matt said...

How was I defensive? She hasn't even seen the film? My insult about people that didn't like the movie's ending had nothing to do with her. Try again. Also, as I said, I have nothing to do with the film.

Please, try to keep up with the conversation. I don't use kid gloves when I talk, or write. I say what I think.

I also politely asked her what her favorite recent movies are. I'm trying to get an idea of her taste.

 
At 1:52 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Laura,

Hopefully you won't read my comments, or those of Bianca, and think I was being rude. I can come off as blunt at times. I respect the fact that you have strong opinions and don't like every movie that is considered great.

I liked The Departed and Million Dollar Baby, didn't care much for Crash. And although I enjoyed his performance, I did think Nicholson was going way over the top in The Departed.

 
At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wrote coverage for Juno but I have not seen the film.

A brief take on the version I read:

Like Scott mentioned, much like an overgrown Afterschool Special.

The strength was the quirky, indie-chick, hipster dialogue -- but at times Juno's references seemed inconsistent with her age/generation (my hunch being that Diablo Cody was channeling herself through the protagonist -- complete with outdated references).

Weak structure -- weak ending.

The only caveat I offered was that the actress who played Juno might cover the story's shortcomings with a great performance.

From the reviews, it seems they hit the jackpot in casting Miss Page.

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger Laura Reyna said...

Matt--

No problem. I come off as too terse sometimes as well.

My comments were targeted at the hype surrounding some movies, not to THERE WILL BE BLOOD specifically. I can't comment on it since I haven't seen it or read the script.

I wanted to make the point that I don't believe movies are generally as good as most people say. I plan on seeing TWBB & JUNO with tempered expectations-- not with the idea that they're "great" b/c others say so. I've been disappointed too many times before. I think many people can relate too this.

"And what are some great movies of the past two or three years, in your opinion?"

I don't use the word "great". That's just too subjective. There are movies that I think are really good & I enjoyed & will see more than once.

APOCALYPTO
THE LIVES OF OTHERS (German)
THE PRESTIGE
CHILDREN OF MEN
THE QUEEN
NOTES ON A SCANDAL
40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN

:-)

~L

 
At 3:42 AM, Blogger Matt said...

"I don't use the word "great". That's just too subjective. There are movies that I think are really good & I enjoyed & will see more than once."

Personally I hope I'm never too tame to proclaim something to be great. I'd rather overdo it than underdo it any day of the week.

 
At 2:21 PM, Anonymous kettybird said...

Matt,

I registered to blogger just so that I can tell you that you really ARE too defensive and you come off as antagonistic.

No need to reply; I was just curious to read "Juno" responses but won't necessarily come back to this blog.

;)

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Wow, I sure hope all that effort was worth your while.

Well, I'll let you know when your opinion starts to matter to me. Oh wait, you're a hit and runner. Too afraid to even come around and back up your nonsense.

 

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