Monday, February 11, 2008

"Juno" stirs the pot.

Last week, Entertainment Weekly, also known as the Magical Conduit Through Which Pictures of Johnny Depp Enter My Home, published a story on the vast and unexpected popularity of the movie, “Juno.” The story included the following paragraph:

“After years of being served mostly bland good girls and ciphers — from Molly Ringwald in the '80s to Alicia Silverstone in the '90s to Lindsay Lohan in the '00s — teenage girls are clearly starving for a female antihero, as are their mothers, fathers, older sisters, and even some of their brothers. In Juno, the story of a pint-size badass who also happens to be a romantic idealist, Hollywood has finally delivered. "It's a teenage female lead we've never seen before,'' says (star Ellen) Page. "She dresses like she wants, says what she wants, and doesn't apologize for it....Girls haven't had that sort of character before. We don't have our Catcher in the Rye." In what may be the ultimate sign of success, there's even a cranky backlash bubbling up, much of it from adults who question whether teenage girls are really all that clever.

This can’t be true, I thought. There must be some smart, funny, independent female role models in the movies somewhere. Right? And then I sat and thought about it. And thought about it some more. And then I had a cookie and thought about whether I should have milk with it. (I decided no. It’s a lactose thing.) And then I went back to thinking about the “Juno” thing. And you know what? I really couldn’t think of a comparable character, someone who lit up the cinemaplex simply by walking to the beat of her own indie drummer.

Tons of smart rebels popped into my head from television. There was Buffy and Willow. There was “Veronica Mars,” and Rory on “Gilmore Girls” and maybe Claire Bennet from “Heroes,” although she loses a little luster in the sparkling wit department. And even if there isn’t a hoard of teenage characters, there’s still been a sizable group of adult women portrayed as smart, funny and independent-minded on shows as diverse as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Firefly” and “30 Rock.” In short, there seems to be a relative haven for smart, badass women on TV.

But why so few brilliant, snarky female teens in the movies? Could it be as terrible as the last line of that paragraph suggests: adults…question whether teenage girls are really all that clever. That line makes me enormously sad especially when I consider how my friends and I spent so much of our youth trying to be hyperliterate, attempting to drop bon mots with the verbal alacrity of Noel Coward...if, you know, he’d been more of a teenage girl.

The conspiracy-minded part of me – the part that knows The Purina Man is keeping the basset hounds down at Westminster – believes that maybe Hollywood has denied us independent minded teenage girls for the simple fact that if we let young girls know it’s okay to think for themselves they won’t buy the jeans or the Hannah Montana CDs or the breast implants we want them to buy. They might realize the dangerous truth that real self-worth comes from thinking for yourself. Put too many Junos in the flock, and these sheep might just wander.

And personally, thinking for myself as a woman and all, how brilliantly awesome would that be?

15 comments:

Kathe said...

Here Here!!!! Three Cheers for strong, independent teenage girls! :)

Scrap Irony said...

I haven't seen or read this in a while, but what about the two girls in Ghost World?

Anonymous said...

The fabulous Mart Stuart Masterson as Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful-- she stays true to herself and still gets the guy (and the diamond earrings!) in the end. Granted, it's a standard issue girl-gets-the-guy ending, but my nerdy self always loved that she never did change into a girly-girl just to get him.

Anonymous said...

I can think of random teenage girls in movies who had their own personality and marched to their own drum… I think the difference in this movie was that she wasn’t in love/had a crush on/fell in love with the captain of the football team. The only other recent movie that comes to mind where that happened was “10 Things I Hate About You”. Otherwise, it is all about the quirky girl eventually conforming or succumbing or changing who she is fundamentally to be with the “IT” guy. Juno matured throughout the movie, but stayed true to who she is. And fell for Paulie Bleeker.

SFG said...

The conspiracy-minded part of me – the part that knows The Purina Man is keeping the basset hounds down at Westminster – believes that maybe Hollywood has denied us independent minded teenage girls for the simple fact that if we let young girls know it’s okay to think for themselves they won’t buy the jeans or the Hannah Montana CDs or the breast implants we want them to buy. They might realize the dangerous truth that real self-worth comes from thinking for yourself. Put too many Junos in the flock, and these sheep might just wander.
Nothing wrong with conspiracies but Hollywood's proven quite good at making money off of hipsters. I personally think Hollywood's just conservative as heck because it costs so much to make and promote a movie these days (ever notice how all the new movies are sequels or adaptations?) and this hadn't been done before.

Like a scientist, I will provide a falsifiable hypothesis: in the next few years you will see multiple movies with quirky, brainy heroines.

StarrySaltwaterRose said...

If I wanted to see Juno before, now I want to so badly I would (if not sick and the weather wasn't freezing) run out to the movie theater right this second.

Here, here for independent girls. If only there were more and they went to my after school program...

Liz said...

Hi - I just found your blog and am so excited about spending some time with it. Essentially I agree with you but I think there are some female characters like this out there to be found. How about Baby in Dirty Dancing? She's awkward, not beautiful, unsophisticated, snarky, committed to justice - and she's a romantic! Seeing your book club book, I was also thinking perhaps Lucy Honeychurch from A Room with a View would count. Although Lucy's not snarky at all, she is definitely independent.

I agree with scrap irony that the Thora Birch character from Ghost World is a great example of a female antihero. Oh here's another one - Winona Ryder in Heathers. Unlike Juno, these two are really unlikeable. Juno's a little abrasive interpersonally, but her morality is clear and unwavering.

The more I think about it, I'm concerned that Juno counts as a female antihero. She's so tame! She's snarky but she's very easy to love. Her character doesn't make any choices that really cause harm or hurt people.

Liz said...

Oh, and I just realized your name was Liz too! So to clarify - I'm Liz D. :)

Anonymous said...

A possible example are the characters played by Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins, in particular, in the Ginger Snaps (2000) movie and sequels. That said this was a Canadian production.

Black Eyed Gurl said...

I was thinking about this, and the only recent movie I can think of with quirky female characters is Saved, but again it's about teenaged pregnancy (maybe the message is independant thinking will get you knocked up, so CONFORM!! CONFORM!!), but it's about a girl learning that it's okay to be who she is without everyone telling her who to be.

Alternately we have Samantha Mathis' character in Pump Up the Volume, who gets thrown out of school for being herself, and I predict eventually ends up in prison. But she gets to make out with Christian Slater, I guess it's an even trade off.

They don't want smart, quirky, snarky, self confident teenaged female characters (as is evident that they are always getting kicked out of school, knocked up, or possibly being sent to prison). Billions of dollars are made off of taking female insecurities and turning them into even bigger insecurities to get them to buy crap. The market wants to produce women who are consumers driven by their fears of not stacking up to the rest of the populace, cos clearly if you have a new Victoria's Secret bra on when you buy your Pamprin you will be socially acceptable enough to go on a diet and turn into an anorexic.

I hope there are more Juno like characters, but I'll stick with my small screen heroines of this sort, if only cos I get to spend more than an hour getting to know them.

Corenn said...

On the TV-side, don't forget Jaye from "Wonderfalls" and George from "Dead Like Me!"

SFG said...

Uh-uh women. It's more insidious than that, if you think about it.

Most teenage girls, outcast or not, want the IT guy. Hollywood is the dream factory. So they show a movie about an unpopular girl who becomes popular and gets a popular guy. This can be sold to any teenage girl who is insecure about her popularity (which is 90% of them, except at the absolute top and bottom of the social hierarchy.)

Courtney Suzanne said...

I would like to point out that Tina Fey's "Mean Girls" showed that trying to fit into the "popular" mold wasn't worth it. I know that LiLo had to turn into one of them for a while, but she learned that being herself was the important thing. Tina would not steer us wrong, sisters!

SFG said...

Tina would not steer us wrong, sisters!

Don't fool yourself. Ms. Fey was interviewed in the New Yorker and admitted to being popular in high school.

jenn said...

I'm probably in the minority here, but Ellen Page and the whole Juno phenomenon really grate on my nerves.

I think that on the surface level, everyone gets a very different picture than what's actually going on. There are some socio-geographic and economic implications in the plot and script of that movie that I find to be a bit problematic, and on a personal level, Ellen Page just seems to get off on her own snarkiness and "Look at me, I'm young and clever!"-ness a bit too much for me.

Of course, we're all entitled to our own opinions, but it's sad that it took a movie that is so blatantly geared towards the white hipster population, as well as the adults that fancy themselves intelligent for liking an 'independent' release, to garner any kind of awareness for this genre of film making. It's not surprising to me that this film has gotten as popular as it has, but it does rather annoy me, and I hope it doesn't go home with any Oscars. I will personally march down and protest. :)