Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Juno, Atonement

Saw Juno finally, and liked it more than I expected though (of course) not as much as I think I am supposed to and definitely not as much as I might have were it not some sort of hipster, critical-taste litmus test being shoved down my throat.

It was not without its faults. I thought it a bit too much on Juno's side and a bit too "hey look how clever I am" for its own good. But it avoided many of the obvious pitfalls of such a genre, the primary one being making everyone around the protagonist a jerk so the audience has no place else to go.

It was like they were brave in allowing Juno to be unsympathetic at times, but then (it felt like to me) lost their nerve and had throw in some mouthy technician or well-timed private break down so that we got, you know, that the "tough broad" exterior was an act to cover up the fear and trembling. I thought Jennifer Garner was superb...could easily have walked off with the picture if her part had been bigger and made a real human being out of the thinnest of caricatures. I'm not sure I felt Juno ever really owned her part in what brought her to the situation she was in, the scene with the technician being a good example. Yeah, her comment was inappropriate, but Juno was (as she often was throughout the film) trying to turn the whole thing into a joke as her coping mechanism, and I thought the film (and character) did an awful lot of judging for a film (and character) that took offense at anyone daring to judge her.

Atonement was a solid literary adaption with a good pedigree. It's the sort of film that I could easily see winning a Best Picture Oscar from an academy too old and experienced to not know Juno is looking down on them them and too conventional into being fooled by arguments that No Country for Old Men or There Will be Blood is anything but style over nihilistic substance. [Note--I wrote that before the nominations came out; four out of five ain't bad.]

By contrast to those pictures "Atonement" wears its moral earnestness on its sleeve, and if the end is (perhaps) nihilism-very-lite, its got the cast of up-and-comers like Garai, Knightly, and McAvoy to make voters feel like they are out in front while still being relatively safe. There's even a cameo by Vanessa Redgrave to lend a stamp of old school imprimatur to the proceedings.

It's sweeping without being heavy and while it is a tad self-conscious in places for my taste (the long tracking shot take in the middle of the picture feels to me like an "anything Cuaron can do, I can to better" self-indulgence rather than a stylistic serviced to the film). Still, for the most part, Wright gets out of the way and lets the material speak for itself, and if and when I'm in the right frame of mind (I was tonight), I can appreciate a solid, commercial literary adaptation for what it is and enjoy it--maybe even more than a film that keeps insisting to me that it is the greatest thing since orange Tic-Tacs.

It wasn't "Persepolis," but I enjoyed it for what it was.

1 comment:

Pacze Moj said...

I liked Atonement more than Juno, but, like you, liked Juno more than I thought I'd like it.

What I especially enjoyed about it was how insignificant it was in the end. Unlike, say, Little Miss Sunshine, or most others "hipster" films, Juno was mostly OK (save a few shots) with not being all hipster-peachy.