Ok, Fine, I Watched it: “Kramer Vs. Kramer” and “Juno”

Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.

This week, I check out 1979’s best picture winner “Kramer Vs. Kramer” and 2007’s cult-classic, “Juno”.

KRAMER VS. KRAMER

Hang on, I have to stop sobbing before I can review this.

Ok, I think… I think I’m good. Deep breaths. ok.  This movie is so so good. It really is. Watch it as soon as you can, but don’t make, like, any plans for the night after you’ve seen it. Because those plans will be cancelled due to feelings.

The film, written and directed by Robert Benton, was based on the book of the same name by Avery Corman. It follows Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) as he is forced to learn how to take care of his son Billy (Justin Henry) after he is abandoned by his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep). The film was a serious awards contender the year of its release, and it totally deserved to be as the writing, acting, and direction is all seriously on point here. Also, it legitimately made me cry, have I mentioned that yet?

The plot of the film is really interestingly handled. I could (and have) easily see(n) this film done as a zany comedy following a likable guy trying to put up with his wacky son, but the film very clearly avoids this kind of tone. The entire movie carries with it this sense of desperation. At first, it’s Hoffman’s desperation to do right by his son, which nicely transitions to his desperation to keep custody of his son as the film progresses. It’s this desperation that makes the film so tense. I found myself legitimately stressed out, hoping for Hoffman’s character to come out on top. The movie also avoids clearly stating who’s “right” or “wrong”, allowing for a much more complex narrative to take hold. Even though Streep is for all intents and purposes the antagonist, her motivation is still very understandable and relatable. Also, the second this movie enters a courtroom, it’s quality jumps, like, a full star rating. I loves me some courtroom movies. Seriously, if the second half of “Battleship” had been a bitter property damage case, I would probably not have hated that movie. But while I love a good legal battle, it’s clear that the film doesn’t. The way in which the lawyers go after Hoffman and Streep is painful to watch, and it’s supposed to be. It’s rare that you find a film with a message that lets the audience figure out said message on their own. None of the movie’s characters come out and say “hey boys and girls, you know that long legal custody battles are terrible, right?” because they don’t need to. It’s all there in the looks Streep and Hoffman give each other and in their faces when they’re on the stand. Also, this movie and the reaction to it helped to reform the way in which custody battles were judged, so seriously, what’s not to like about it?

The movie really makes you root for Hoffman with all of your heart. The stretch of him trying his hardest to get a job within twenty-four hours had me on the edge of my seat. That’s because by the time that part of the film comes around, you know what he’s fighting for. That’s why the first half of the film, showing Hoffman bonding with his son is so important. It establishes that relationship so firmly that you don’t want to see it torn apart by any means. The last few scenes are heartbreaking because of how much the audience has been through up to that point.

The acting in this is holy sh*tting great. Hoffman’s desperation I’ve already addressed, but I just wanted to directly state that Justin Henry is an amazing child actor. Seriously, better than he has any right to be. Child actors aren’t supposed to be good, don’t you know that, movie? And they’re certainly not supposed to be able to make me sob like a baby. Streep does a wonderful job of riding a line of likability you don’t see very often. That’s especially hard, given how little of the movie she’s actually in. And again, this movie is heartrending. Seriously, the scene towards the end of the movie, in which Hoffman and his son silently make french toast absolutely DESTROYED me, I have never been so sad while at the same time also wanting french toast very badly.

FIVE out of five stars.

JUNO

Ok, before I say anything else about this film, I have to ask a question: dear any current or former teenagers reading this (which should include all of you because I don’t think my demo skews younger than fourteen), did you ever speak like any of the teenagers in this movie? Did you understand what they were saying… at any point? ME NEITHER!

The film, directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, follows magical-author-insert-teenage-girl Juno (Ellen Page) as she deals with an unexpected pregnancy. As a movie, it is beloved as an indie-film classic and favorite of people in my age bracket, and I have to say… I kinda get it?

Like, I’m not the biggest fan of this movie and I don’t think I’d go out of my way to recommend it, but I one-hundred percent understand why people like it. It’s a fantasy, and for anyone who wants to be the kind of hipster-cool Juno is, you should enjoy it. Hell, I’m not going to fault anyone who calls Spider-man “dumb”, because it kinda is, but it’s the kinda dumb that works for me. Likewise, if this is the kind of movie you want, go for it. But it’s not really for me, and I can’t exactly review it from the perspective of anyone other than myself, so here goes.

Let’s talk about what I liked, first. The cast is phenomenal. Ellen Page, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, I absolutely adore most all of these people in movies and they all do a good job here. Simmons is really likable (even if he and his wife react IMPLAUSIBLY well to finding out about their daughter’s pregnancy). Honestly, I have yet to see a movie in which J.K. Simmons wasn’t awesome. He’s Cave freakin’ Johnson, for christsakes. Jason Bateman is really great as well, even if he does vanish from the film towards the end like it’s a magic trick. Also, Michael Cera has had a free pass from me since “Scott Pilgrim” so I have nothing bad to say about him. Ellen Page really does a great job, and sells some dialogue that a lesser actress wouldn’t be able to. She manages to keep likable, even when her character is acting like a monumental asshole (I’ll get to that).

I also wanted to address the script, which is remarkably well paced for the first half and creates some interesting moments throughout. Also, it does manage to handle the subject of teen pregnancy very well. And, before I get into the other stuff, I wanted to address that Diablo Cody’s adult dialogue is great, and worked really well for the characters. And, yeah, I did like the too-cute artistic transitions between seasons, I’m only human. Oh, and before I get to what I didn’t like, I wanted to say that I respect the hell out of a movie that goes from winter to spring without doing a token Christmas scene. Yeah, I love christmas too, but we don’t need it written into every wintertime movie.

Here we go, onto the parts I didn’t like. And again, I fully accept that a lot of the things I didn’t like about this movie are things other people may love about this movie we are all individual people with our own tastes. Ok, now that I’ve disclaimer-d my way out of pissing people off, let’s talk about the problems with this film.

Number one: I want to punch every teenage character in the mouth until they stop talking. I am honestly convinced that Diablo Cody was born as a full-fledged adult, because there is no way she was ever a teenager. I wanted subtitles for the batsh*t insane slang that this movie calls dialogue. There were multiple moments, where I was invested in a scene, and then Juno would say something dumb and would completely yank me out of it. I mean, if it hadn’t been Ellen Page saying some of these things, I would have actively disposed her character, not just for the dialogue but also for the fact that…

Number two: Juno is an asshole. While she does have the minor character arc of learning not to be a d*ck to Michael Cera, she doesn’t learn anything about doing the same with everybody else. She’s careless to other people’s feelings and personal stakes in the matters at hand, and constantly acts like she knows exactly what she’s doing when she clearly doesn’t. And even up until the end of the movie, she mistreats Cera’s character to an offensive degree.

Lightning round: First of all, a lot of this film really feels like a vehicle to sell me a soundtrack. Musical scoring is fine, but when I start to notice the soundtrack as often as I did here, your film has a problem. Next up, while I said that the first half is really well paced, the second half isn’t. For a film that’s only an hour and a half, it still kinda drags towards the end. Not only that but the abandonment of the plot by Jason Bateman feels uneven, resulting in an ending that feels like it needed another pass. Michael Cera is not in this film nearly as much as he needed to be for the ending to work. We get a whole scene of Juno explaining why Cera is awesome without ever seeing him being awesome in the actual film. They could have inserted a scene like that at the expense of one of the many scenes talking about how cool and hip Juno is. She’s into cool music, I get it! She has the ability to poorly reference Thunderbirds and Thundercats at the same time, shock and awe!

Again, though, I don’t hate this movie. In fact, I do actually like it. It’s just that there was a lot about it that kept me from loving it. But if you looked at any of my criticisms and thought “hey, that doesn’t sound bad” then check it out. If my watching a movie and not loving it leads to someone else discovering a movie they love, than I’ll be more than happy.

Three out of five stars.

Ok, this week was a long one, so I’ll be brief in my conclusion. Next week, we get recommendations from two brand new recommenders, I hope that goes well.

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