21 April 2008

on hype

As most of you are aware, I've had something of a busy year (as in, I've actually moved 3 times in the last 15 months) and part of the fallout is that I'm so very, very behind on my film watching. (I am, however, doing much better on my It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia viewing) There's a big stack of uber-indie DVDs I still have to watch and review and one of these days I'll get around to finishing a new script. I'll actually haven't yet watched No Country For Old Men, if that tells you how behind I am.

Anyway, that's all to say that I didn't see Juno this year until Oscar night (on the way to an Oscar party, actually). By that time, I'd heard from everyone alive how much I would love it. I'd even heard some of the backlash from my fellow bloggers. Actually, to be more accurate, I'd heard about it, not wanting to actually know what the backlash entailed before I saw the film.

So I went with my girlfriend to see it, pretty excited as I'm a big fan of Michael Cera and I thought Jason Reitman's Thank You For Smoking was highly underrated. Also, there was that buzz about the script. Apparently the wittiest, cleverest thing this side of Oscar Wilde.

Five minutes in and I can't get over how horrible the dialogue is, how forced it feels, like what someone is trying to imagine a teenager would say. And even if you concede that teenagers would say things like "honest to blog" (the horror), why do the adults speak the same way?

This is a pet peeve of mine, actually, when all the characters in a film have the same vocabulary. It isn't realistic. It isn't even probable. Tarantino does this all the time and it annoys the hell out of me.

Back to the point: I'm suffering through Juno, trying to figure out how this script got optioned, much less an Oscar nomination, and suddenly it shifts. The film turns serious and before I know it, I'm invested in the characters, but not hers as much as the rest of them. Maybe I can't get over the "honest to blog" bullshit, or maybe I just like those characters more than her, which is strange because the film so clearly wants to push her as the protagonist. I'm supposed to be in her camp.

I didn't really think much of it until recently when my girlfriend was telling me that she has a lot of trouble liking anything that she's heard is really good, as her expectations get built up to levels the films cannot actually reach. There's a ton of films that can easily fall under this heading: Napoleon Dynamite (her first example), The Sixth Sense, Juno, The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption, and the list goes on.

And I think maybe I don't come across this all that often because I'm usually one of the first people I know to see something, so I have a fresh perspective, but there's gotta be something to the fact that the part of the film that got the most hype I found to be awful and the parts that no one talked about (you know, the non-flashy parts) I found to be so good.

I wonder what that is? Is public opinion that bad or is my reaction to it so severe? I hope not. Maybe it's a combination. I don't really know.


Anonymous said...

Hey Lucas,
I know what you mean. I think the hype machine often sets us up to feel like we should want to spend the money and enjoy a film because supposedly everyone else does. Based on your experience with Juno it seems like the process works in reverse for you. I haven't seen Juno yet either because I too suffer from a hype-a-phobic viewing disorder. In simplest terms, the level of hype generated around a film and the immediacy of my viewing it form an inverse ratio. I don't know why but it does. :D

lucas mcnelly said...


one thing i wonder is why a film like Juno has that effect while others don't. I mean, I heard all the hype around There Will Be Blood and that didn't seem to affect my opinion at all.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the hype around Juno focused on something that was kind of gimmicky, whereas the hype around There Will Be Blood focused on an overall quality of craft.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Lucas,

I'm late on catching up on my blog roll, so I'm just seeing this now.

I get sucked into the hype factory too and it absolutely effects my take on a film...I certainly try to avoid that, consider the film carefully afterwards and could usually make an, ahem, objective stand on it, but let's face it - my subjectivity has been compromised...But I also try to be selective when it comes to reading about a film beforehand - trusted sources and all that. That doesn't always line up with what I expect, but my hit ratio is pretty reasonable.

As for Juno, that opening few minutes is pretty awful and the script is overwritten, but I didn't so much mind all the characters speaking like that. I don't necessarily look for reality in the worlds of the films I see - but I do look for consistency in the world they've set up. So Juno exists in a world where everyone (except for the adoptive mother), speaks in clever catchphrases. Some of that cleverness rubbed me wrong, but I was fine with the concept...

Piper said...

Great post Lucas.

I'm trying to put my finger on it as well and you make great points about Juno. I had been a big fan of Ellen Paige until I saw this movie. And I never really got the serious part because Juno always swooped in and killed it with another "witty piece of dialogue". And I also thought that every aspect of this movie tried too damn hard to be individual. From the shooting style (very much like Wes Anderson) to the scribbly type treatment to that damn soundtrack where every track interrupted the movie with its uniqueness.

I'm not normally one to zag in these such cases, but I just had to at this movie. And then the more people like it, the more I absolutely hate it. I felt the same way with Little Miss Sunshine.

I wrote about it a bit. These two movies feel that same. As casual feel-good movies they're fine. As Oscar contenders, they move up a notch and must be judged differently.