Day By Day

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I have not seen Juno and probably won't for a while. "She Who Must Not Be Named" saw a documentary feature on the writer, a former stripper with the felicitous name of "Diablo Cody", and was so turned off that she absolutely refuses to see anything with which the woman is associated.

As for me, nothing I have seen in print makes me want to see the film. It is described as "quirky" -- I hate quirky. The main character is often compared to Janeane Garofolo -- another turnoff. Another point of comparison is "Napoleon Dynamite", which bored me. I have long since learned that the sort of characters and predicaments that amuse most major critics leave me cold. I, for instance, intensely disliked "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind".

So, neither "She" nor I have much interest in seeing this film.

I probably will eventually see it, on the Indie channel or such, but for now I have better things to do with my time and money.

Still, it has some interest in that it has stirred up a lot of controversy. It is the third film this year in which a young woman, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, has chosen to bear the child rather than kill it. The first, Waitress, was a clumsy affair that gained a lot of sympathy support because of the horrific fate of its creator; the second, Knocked Up, was basically a stupid slacker/stoner comedy, redeemed by the incandescent presence of mega babe Katherine Heigl. Now comes Juno. Three films in the same year, all with a pro-life bias! That has the tongues wagging in California.

What is more, Juno, was written and produced by the very kind of non-conformist hipster types so much beloved by left-wing critics. Who could be more non-conformist than stripper, sex phone operator, Diablo? What could be more hip than the fusion of Janeane Garofolo and Napoleon Dynamite? Yet, its message is pro-life!!! How can that be? The suits in Hollywood want to know. The fate of future projects hangs in the balance.

What is for me most interesting, though, is that the film is causing consternation on the Left. Lefty commentators want to like the film [Roger Ebert picked it as best film of the year] but hate, hate, hate, its message, and it is fun to watch them torturing logic attempting to argue that the film really isn't pro-life.

For insights into this debate I refer you to this commentary by Ann Hulbert in Slate, and this response to her piece by Ross Douthat in the Atlantic, and this response to Douthat's response in the New Republic.

Clearly the cultural Left senses a threat -- and is currently in a state of denial. Suddenly they find themselves not only on the wrong side of the real war [note the repeated failure of anti-war polemics] but they now seem to be losing the culture wars. As Hulbert notes with some dismay, teen births are trending up.

Hmmm, maybe I should see this thing after all.

Meanwhile I caught a couple of critically-acclaimed flicks on late-night TV recently. The first is The Wind that Shakes the Barley which won big at Cannes.

Barley is a political tract disguised as a movie. It is beautifully photographed, by Barry Ackroyd, and features some first-rank actors, notably Cillian Murphy. But the writing is atrocious, the staging clumsy, and the film lacks any interesting personal dimensions. It is nothing more than a political statement -- either a blatantly biased indictment of the British occupation of Ireland or [for the historically illiterate] of the American occupation in Iraq -- that has garnered critical praise simply on that basis. It offers nothing more.

At more than two hours in length Barley stretches on long after its major points have been made. The personal drama lacks any intensity. In short -- it is boring. For anyone who is not an IRA partisan or who has not succumbed to Bush Derangement Syndrome it is a complete waste of time.

The other movie I saw late at night was Keeping Mum, a black comedy out of Britain staring Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Maggie Smith and [I'm not kidding] Patrick Swayze. The Brits used to do this sort of thing extremely well and, considering the cast, I had high hopes for Mum. Unfortunately they were unrealized. The plot, involving a nice old lady who happens to be a serial killer, a long-buried secret, and an adulterous affair, just never really gets off the ground. The jokes were obvious and clumsily presented. There are flashes of brilliance from the actors, but they just aren't given enough to work with and for the most part the movie drags. Their talents are wasted in this meager and unoriginal effort.

Black comedy as a genre reached its peak half a century ago. A film like Mum reminds us of the good old days and how far we have fallen.