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?
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.