More than we can handle.

Twenty years ago this weekend, my wife and I went on our first date: a screening of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “Raising Arizona.” We had actually been working together for about three months before I finally screwed up my courage and asked her out. I had seen the movie several months before, and chatted her up about it to no end. When it came back for another engagement, that was all the pretext I needed. It turned out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between not only my eventual wife and me, but among us, the movies in general, and Coen brothers especially.

So I didn’t know quite what to make of it when I read a bit in Entertainment Weekly where Owen Gleiberman alleged that Raising Arizona is the movie that let the “quirky” Genie out of the bottle, leading a path to Juno, which is, you guessed it, the last movie we saw together.

Now, you’d be hard pressed to find a bigger connoisseur of the offbeat than me. Nor do I mind Raising Arizona being labeled the progenitor, or even the godfather, of quirky movies, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Yes, it uses language that pushes well past probability that the people saying it would be saying it, but for the fact that they’re in this Coen-verse of a film. But RA never flashes its badge of quirk as proof of its hipster bona fides. It’s a treasure trove of quotable lines, but no one says anything that’s going to make you wish you were guy saying it. And that’s where I think the genetic relationship with Raising Arizona parts company and Gleiberman’s comparison becomes one of apples and orangutans. What bugs me, is the implication that somehow by starting the quirky snowball rolling, Raising Arizona is to blame for the sins of Juno. And let me tell you: Juno has a lot of atoning to do.

In case it isn’t already clear, Juno drove me just batshit crazy. There was plenty to love about it; and I would even go so far as to call Oscar-worthy in places: the characters, rather than being extruded from some Hollywood pasta machine, were complex and three dimensional. The casting was outstanding; the actors turned in first-rate performances. But the best, most emotionally rich and authentic moments were those where nobody was speaking. And ironically, it’s the things for which it is the most loudly praised—the dialogue and the look-at-me quirk (for its own sake)—at which Juno fails fatally. Though I’m sure they exist, I can’t for the life of me think of a more egregious case of the emperor’s new clothes than Juno getting an Original Screenplay Oscar. Clearly, no Academy screenwriting voter wanted to admit, even to him/herself, that s/he wasn't hip enough to appreciate Juno.

I can’t help but wonder how painful it’ll be to watch Juno in five years. Don’t think so? I’ve got three words: The Breakfast Club. I know pop culture is by nature ephemeral, but this is severe, debilitating myopia of Magoo proportions. It certainly doesn’t help when Diablo Cody drops all the same references to Dario Argento et al. in her EW column that the precocious heroine does in the movie. Diablo? Seriously? You're obviously very bright and have a great gift for observation. But stop trying so hard. Chillax, as the kids say. Not every line has to end up on a bumper sticker. I appreciate the attempt to authentically capture the zeitgeist, or show just how dialed into it you are. But you have to spread it out a little. Or temper it with some self-effacing irony. I know it can be done. John Hughes figured it out somewhere between TBC and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I'm sure you can too.

When I started, I had hoped to make this a meditation on the amazing relationship my wife and I have, and how it all started. For that, you'll just have to tune in again next time.

9 comments:

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Wow, you are older than I initially pictured you. That's kewl though because you blog wear it well.

Mrs. MIB is a lucky gal.

What's up with your boyfriend, G-unit. He's giving it hard to AG. Does he not know AG is just a blogwhore who loves all?!

Seriously, buy the man a drink and give him a muscle relaxer.

Snag said...

I watched The Breakfast Club with one of my kids not too long ago. I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I still kind of enjoyed.

St. Elmo's Fire, though. Now that one blows.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

AG:
Note I didn't say how old either of us was when we met. We were fleecy little lambs.

Ok, so "giving it hard to AG" is a bad thing? FWIW, you might consider a more soft-pedal approach with Cap'n Goldie. And don't hate him because he's dutiful--he went to OK b/c his Uncle told him to.

Snag:
Overall, TBC holds up pretty well; it's just some of the archness of the language is cringe-worthy enough to make the drama seem petty. But SEF, my god, just thinking about it gives me a mild brain hemorrhage. Not least for the David Foster music.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

Nobody hated him for going to OK. All I wanted to know if he was going to live there forever. He gets his panties bunched way to early. AG would think counsel would ask a few more questions before judging a book by its cover. Guess not!

His loss.

He's so crunchy. He needs a good spankin'...

Also, nobody said you were old. Just older than AG guessed. That's all.

Snag, marry AG!!!!

fish said...

Nor do I mind Raising Arizona being labeled the progenitor, or even the godfather, of quirky movies, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

Gotta disagree here, Hal Ashby had the Coens by many years with Harold and Maude, even Being There for that matter.

Haven't seen Juno yet, but any movie that has a teenager communicate in more than grunts and whines is clearly lacking in authenticity.

Adorable Girlfriend said...

P.S. Your boyfriend insulted my blog husband. Res is going to have to go all commando on Goldie pretty soon.

Jamie said...

"I-I-I-LO-OVE HIM SO-O-O MUCH!

"I know ya do hunny."

Will said...

Juno's critical success is a result of the crap to which it gets compared. Audiences have become so accustomed to flat, static characters and cliched plots (especially in the "teen comedy" realm) that when they see Juno, with the positive qualities you described, they are willing to overlook (or are blinded to) its weaknesses. The dialogue is cringe-inducing. Nobody talks like that!

headbang8 said...

You're absolutely right about the best scenes in Juno being where nobody spoke. For me, it was Bleeker looking at his yearbook. I spent much of the movie (caught on a plane) just wanting Juno to shut up.