So I hesitated from joining this discussion when it occurred, but a conversation I had this weekend got me thinking about Juno again. So I'll come out and say this now:
Juno made me like Jason Reitman more than Wes Anderson.
I never thought I'd be able to find a contemporary director I like more than Wes. This doesn't mean there aren't several that are more talented in different ways, especially Chris Nolan, but this isn't the point (And I'm not saying Reitman is more talented than Wes, either). Wes was my favorite, for so long. In fact, I consider his films to be an immensely important aspect of my life and growing up. I still doubt I'll have feel such an emotional, personal connection to a film as I continue to do with Rushmore.
In Juno, Jason Reitman managed to lift considerable aspects of Wes' style and make a movie that is far more accessible than anything Wes has ever done. I've always understood why so many don't like Wes' films. They are not for everyone. But that they aren't for everyone isn't proof of their greatness. Too often, I feel, many cinephiles seems to like artsy films simply because a mass audience would not; they like the pretension and the apparent complexity. (Example: There is no other possible justification, as far as I can tell, for the insanely unearned worship of Donnie Darko.)
At the same time, a film's success with a mass audience doesn't make it a good film (see: Transformers). Nonetheless, there is a particular skill in recognizing what an audience wants and delivering it (Michael Bay, as much as I hate his films, knows what he's doing). But there's an even greater skill not in giving the mass audience what it already knows it wants but more or less telling a mass audience what it didn't know it wanted and or getting a mass audience to see what it hasn't seen before. The commerical success of Juno was organic. Great reviews, great marketing, and exceptional word of mouth.
It was clear to me watching Juno that Jason Reitman loves Wes Anderson just as much as I do. If I were directing a movie, I'd try to throw a nod or two towards Wes. But I wouldn't copy him (Jared Hess, are you listening?). I'm not him. We're different. Same goes for Jason Reitman. He wasn't afraid to throw a few shoutouts Wes' way. But he made his own damn film, a film that was loved by both the art house world and the average filmgoer, and I think that's damn impressive.
But these stylistic and commerical issues are incidental to why I'm bigger on Reitman these days. Here's why: politics.
Old school racers who know me know that I'm really into politics, and that I'm a libertarian. It should go without saying that I loved Thank You For Smoking, which is quite possibly the most explicitly libertarian movie I've ever seen. And though I knew Jason Reitman's politics, I wasn't expecting Juno to be a very political film. I was wrong. (It has nothing to do with the abortion question, if that's what you're thinking.)
Even though, definitionally, most people/Americans are middle class, films rarely depict middle class life. And when they do depict it, they don't do it accurately, and they don't do it with praise. Condemnation for the American Dream oozes out of Hollywood, even though Hollywood films often sell the American Dream to the middle class audience by making movies about successful, pretty people living in gorgeous apartments.
Even if Juno joins in suggesting that something is wrong with the kind of neighborhood the Lorings live in (and there is something wrong with it), Juno is no total condemnation of suburbia. No, it's a celebration of middle class life and middle class family values. Note to social conservatives: study how Mac and Bren treat their pregnant teenage daugther with love, understanding, and compassion -- even all the more touching by the fact than Bren is not Juno's real mother. For example, this is quite possibly the most touching exchange between a father and daughter in any film I have ever seen:
Juno MacGuff: That's not what it's about. I just need to know that it's possible that two people can stay happy together forever.
Mac MacGuff: Well, it's not easy, that's for sure. Now, I may not have the best track record in the world, but I have been with your stepmother for 10 years now and I'm proud to say that we're very happy.
Mac MacGuff: Look, in my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person is still going to think the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with.
Juno MacGuff: Yeah. And I think I've found that person.
Mac MacGuff: Yeah sure you have - your old D-A-D! You know I'll always be there to love you and support you no matter what kind of pickle you're in... Obviously.
[nods to her belly]
Juno MacGuff: Dad, I think I'm just going to, like, shove out for a sec, but I won't be home late.
Mac MacGuff: Ok. You were talking about me right?
[On an unrelated note, I want all those people who complained about Diablo's script and its jargon to read that scene. It is perfect.]
We had a couple of discussions on these boards years back about how one of the differences between Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson is that Payne seems to hate his own characters. Well, Reitman LOVES the MacGuffs, and so do I.
I don't know how well I've made my case here, it's really just a few random thoughts. But here's how I made this case to someone else: Think of Juno as the anti-Graduate. These are two films with fairly similar comic sensibilities. Some similar themes and questions (young love, relationship with an older figure). And Reitman quotes Anderson who was quoting Nichols.
But just examine those closing shots. Preceeding both, the hero performs an arguably romantic gesture to win back a lover s/he has wronged. Who knows what's in store for these lovers in the future? They're young, and anybody who had young love knows that it probably won't last. But Reitman wants it to last, and he wants us to want it to last. He doesn't place his lovers on a moving bus, headed into the unknown. He sits them down, in front of a quiet, simple house, doing something they love together. This is the American Dream. Who can ask for more?
[Apologies for the length, folks.]
Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.