In almost every year and every Academy awards season, a film separates itself from the pack in both critical praise and audience adoration, becoming a front-runner not just for Best Picture but Biggest Backlash as well. The most obvious example, as memorialized by Elaine Benes, was The English Patient. Its sweeping scale and romantic spirit captured the imaginations of many before winning the scorn of cynical intellectuals across the country. I think we're still living through the Forrest Gump backlash. After it "robbed" Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption during the Oscars, I've heard my generation criticize Gump for being overly sentimental, for being an apologist for the racial prejudice of the pre-Civil Rights era American South, and most offensively, for not even being funny (I stand by the claim that it is one of the most quotable movies of the '90's). Other recent award favorites that provoked backlashes include Titanic, Jerry Maguire, American Beauty, and Crash (On a personal note, I have yet to backlash against virtually any of these movies. Maybe I'm stubborn to change my mind, but I think some of these are just easy targets, since they all feature a "mainstream" type of love or emotion that begs to get made fun of. They are the Billy Joel's of movies, and I'm a big Billy Joel fan).
While I would say it's certainly not a favorite to win Best Picture, this year's frontrunner for Biggest Backlash, a backlash which I wholeheartedly advocate, has to be Juno. I'm actually a little surprised/concerned that it hasn't happened already (the movie's been out for over two months). As far as a backlash goes, this movie's got everything going for it except for people who already hate on it. First, it has numerous virtues (essential for every backlash against you, is to have a majority on your side to start). A little indie charmer, the film has received rave reviews, and has made a killing at the box office due to great word-of-mouth (budgeted at $6.5 million, it has grossed $120 million and rising). The soundtrack is full of indie rock nuggets -- some old (Kinks, Sonic Youth), some new (Cat Power, Moldy Peaches) -- that help shape the quirky nature of Juno's aesthetic; in fact, it could be the quirkiest film since Napoleon Dynamite (whose own backlash has been sorely lacking -- really, people are still quoting this?). The film also boasts a winning cast of tastemaker favorites like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, an A-lister flexing her small movie chops in Jennifer Garner, and surprising newcomer Ellen Page, nominated for Best Actress for her work. To top it off, it was written by Diablo Cody, a first time screenwriter and former stripper who has struck gold with her unique writing style and is now accepted as the voice of sardonic young adults nationwide (and Canada).
Audiences of all ages love this thing and will tell you all about it; teenagers for it's sarcastic, independent, socially awkward (in an endearing way) heroes, and adults for its supposed authentic look at the lives of young people and how they talk. Juno has been adopted as a sign of how the hip young kids act these days.
It certainly is a fun movie and much better than most of what has come out this year (see Michael Clayton), but I think if we all took a deep breath we'd discover why we should have started this backlash a long time ago. The film's faults are numerous. First of all, critics and audiences alike seem to be glossing over the main theme of the movie: Juno's pregnancy. One of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, where the film has a 93% freshness rating, lauds the frank discussions about sex and teen pregnancy. Was I in the bathroom for these frank discussions? The movie doesn't tackle any of these issues; it hardly lays a finger on them. A smart teenage girl from an at least moderately liberal home and community gets pregnant the first time she has sex. You would think discussions/doubts/decisions relating to an abortion would be a little more central to her life than one afternoon's trip to a clinic overseen by some girl who got fired from Newbury Comics. After one more conversation in cool new slang with her best friend the issue is dropped and she decides to have the child. I'm not saying the decision wasn't a good one, in life or in the film, but was it such a given that this was the right decision? Is my New York City progressiveness clouding the accuracy of this picture?
The movie also tries so hard to be cool, and I'm starting to feel like Mugatu calling out Derek Zoolander's one look ("I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!"), because no one's coming around to this. As soon as Dwight from The Office starts referring to Juno's pregnancy as an Etch-a-Sketch and she responds with, "Silencio, old man," I started wincing. The unintentional awkwardness permeates most of the film, but everything about it is so preciously put together to appear ironic that the movie has very little resemblance to real life. This is seen most egregiously in the Hamburger phone. Not only does Juno have one, but she explicitly mentions it while talking, as in, just in case the audience didn't realize how charmingly quirky my character and lifestyle are, I am going to now say out loud that I have a novelty phone last produced in the early 1980s.
I also take objection to the misuse of Michael Cera. This kid has already won eternal loyalty from Arrested Development, Superbad, and his blog. He's sweet, hilarious, and front-runner to play a young Montgomery Burns if they ever make a live-action Simpsons (which they shouldn't). His talents make it clear why he was cast. But it does not make clear why they had to dress him up in ridiculous shorts and a headband, and make him pop Tic Tac's like painkillers. It's the same thing with Will Ferrell in the ads for Semi-Pro; if he's funny anyway, why dress him in a ridiculous costume that makes him one-joke and therefore limiting the many jokes he could make in normal clothes?
I am waiting impatiently to read an article or hear on TV some sort of criticism of Juno, starting the backlash. The film would have had a happy life as this type of movie: brief period at the top, with critical praise and box office success. It would be commonly listed as a Favorite Movie on the Facebook, the soundtrack would have brought indie artists to a larger audience, and the acerbic screenplay would have lent us a few quotes. Finally the backlash would set in, and though we'd still remember it as a funny movie with good music, it would no longer be considered an authentic view into modern youth, and we wouldn't have to put up with nonsense like Academy Award nominations for a second rate Garden State or Little Miss Sunshine.
I'm hoping this happens, but as Juno cruises to nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay among others, it looks like this could be an exception to the backlash rule.