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This is Why 'Juno' Bothers Me

Talking with Jason Reitman about what made me mad...

So, it's official... America loves Juno. This little independent film now has the 31st biggest per screen opening of all time along with $31,470,011 at the domestic box-office to date and folks think it may top the $59.8 million fan favorite Little Miss Sunshine took in 2006. Here's the question: Why? Why does everyone like this movie?

Only ten out of 156 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes call the film "Rotten" giving it an impressive 94% rating, and while I personally didn't hate the film and even gave it a "B-" in my review I can't quite seem to figure out all the love. Yeah, it has some clever dialogue delivered in all of its "Dawson's Creek" glory as if the 16-year-old Juno studies "Wit for Dummies" on her off time, but it can't simply be all the one-liners that people are falling in love with can it? The film is being referred to as "quirky", "smart", "witty", "intelligent" and "hip", but for some reason the one word that is not being used is "unfair".

Back in November of 2007 I sat down with director Jason Reitman for an interview about the film and only now do I feel it is appropriate to bring it up since I was waiting to hear what more people thought of this film and if my concerns would ever be addressed by anyone else. Since they weren't I feel I must stand alone and bring you my conversation with Reitman. Be warned, there are plot spoilers to follow.

My problem with the film is the way Reitman treats the Mark character played by Jason Bateman. Mark and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are the "happy" couple that will be adopting 16-year-old Juno's baby. Juno found them in the Penny Saver and felt they were the right family for her illegitimate child. Upon meeting Mark and Vanessa we instantly realize that Vanessa controls Mark in every way. All of Mark's belongings have been tossed into a single room and his dreams have been pretty much shunned. Even the mere mention of his former band generates a scowl from Vanessa as her wants and desires take precedence in their household. I hate to use the phrase "controlling bitch", but nothing else seems to fit.

As Juno's pregnancy progresses we learn more about Mark and all of his dreams that will never come to fruition. We learn that he has pretty much abandoned everything he loves for the sake of his marriage. He works out of the house creating commercial jingles and doesn't seem to have any friends outside of Vanessa who, as I mentioned, is not interested in anything Mark is interested in whatsoever.

The story moves along and Mark and Juno create something of an unorthodox friendship, never going over the line, but treading very close. Mark sees the youth in Juno and feelings of doubt in his marriage and where his life is heading creep in and he ultimately decides to end his marriage and asks Vanessa for a divorce. It is this moment in the film that Reitman decides Mark is now an immature guy that is unwilling to grow up. He is unwilling to "step up" as Reitman tells me and be a man. We are now asked to look at Vanessa with sympathetic eyes and feel compassion for her as she will make a great mother and has been abandoned by this immature pathetic man that is unwilling to accept his responsibilities. A man Reitman tells me he pities. Sorry, can't do it.

How is it that the person whom has had their life thrown into a tiny room and has been told to forget his dreams is the immature one? Why should I feel Vanessa is some sort of great person just because she will be a good mother? Does everyone need to grow up the same way? Does everyone need to get married and have a kid to be considered an adult? If someone wants to hold on to their dreams does that automatically make them an immature person trying to keep a handle on their childhood?

I asked Jason about all of this last November and here is how it panned out:

Jennifer Garner's character is not a nice person. She is never nice to Mark, from the outset, and I don't know why we are supposed to...

Jason Reitman (JR): Here's my feeling. I had a kid in the year leading up to the making of this movie. So in many ways I was identifying with what was going on in Mark's head, which is the fear of growing up, the fear of closing a chapter of your life. That's the most terrifying thing about having a child as a guy. You're dealing with your own mortality. You're closing a chapter of your life. You're saying good bye to a period in your life that you can't have back and that's really scary, it's legitimately scary and I went through that. I was pushing all that stuff directly into Mark.

Now, I was also going through what Vanessa was feeling, which is that desperation for the child, a desperation for everything to be all right, for the kid to come and for her to be healthy and perfect. So I kind of identified with both characters. I think one of the wonderful turns on this movie is that you immediately identify with Mark at the beginning. Cool guy, nice, digs music, seems very put upon by his wife and we see guys in that situation all the time. Guys who seem to be strangled by their spouses and their possessions wind up in the corner of the house, maybe in a closet and if they're lucky they get a room of their own to put up their rock posters and jam out.

So, it's a movie where you initially feel sorry for this guy for having to put up with this uptight wife and then it turns on you, well it didn't turn for you, but the idea is that it turns for you in that you begin to realize that Vanessa is a woman who was born to be a mother. She has been believing in this relationship from moment one and when she feels the baby kick and you see the sincerity... The change is that, instead of a woman who seems to want to have a family and a child to fit a Martha Stewart mold that you see in those goofy photos she has on the wall and those incense sticks that she has, you realize that her desire to be a mom is completely legitimate and it's not fake.

I agree with some of what you are saying. I enjoyed the film actually, I just don't agree about the treatment of Mark. I agree there is a switch in her character. It's just that he was so stifled in the beginning, he was already stifled, and he had already lost that part of his life before the kid was ever a reality. Now all of a sudden he has definitely lost it, she told him he can't do that and even puts him down for it.

JR: The idea is that at a certain point you need to grow up. That's my thought to Mark. The difference between me and Mark is that I stepped up. I stepped up and am a father and he didn't and that's what's kind of sad.

It's who he is. He did the right thing for him, if he had stayed in that marriage it would have been a lot worse, but I kind of pity Mark a little and you can feel that in the film.

I agree with you that he is immature in the moment that he is looking for approval from Juno when he says, "I thought you would be happy about this." That is a sign of immaturity, looking for affirmation from a 16-year-old.

JR: He's desperately trying to be a child. You know, the love affair of Mark and Juno is not sexual. It's not two people trying to be with each other...

That would have ruined this movie by the way and I didn't think you would do it, but there is that scene where many will say a line has been crossed.

JR: Yeah, there's that one second... It's about two people that are obsessed with where each other are in life and here's Juno who's flirting with adulthood and here's Mark who's flirting with childhood, and they both are not supposed to be in the other place. Juno who is pregnant and could easily become an adult is flirting with adulthood but needs to remain a child and Mark, who is flirting with childhood, and cannot go back to being a child, ends up in kind of this cyclical nature for the rest of his life.


Personally I don't think Jason really addressed my concerns about the treatment of Mark as something of a villain. If you have already had your life taken from you and are now reaching a point of certainty that you will never get it back you have two options: 1) Stay in the marriage and suffer; 2) Get out and do your best to live the life you want. Why is it that we should pity Mark and feel sad for him wanting to live the life he wants? You only get one life, why be miserable if you don't have to be?

Mark is making the mature decision to end the marriage and allow everyone an opportunity for a better life. If he had not made the decision, it is as Reitman said, "[If] he had stayed in that marriage it would have been a lot worse," so why the harsh treatment?

Considering Juno is not about one-liners and is actually a coming-of-age story this part of the film is the central storyline, which is why I have such a huge problem with it. I don't mind people enjoying the witty dialogue and funny one-liners, but I just wish more people would have really evaluated the treatment of Mark's character as I think it truly is the most important piece of the story.

One thing I will say is that Jason Reitman is one hell of a director, because what he did with Mark is not necessarily thanks to the script, it is all due to his direction. I give him credit for being able to achieve his goal, even if I disagree with it. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, agree or disagree.

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  • Laremy

    Oddly enough I'm bothered for another reason. I think your take is valid, Bateman is handled oddly - but my problem is with the relationship as a whole. I just couldn't see Garner and Bateman together period, they were just two actors on screen. The script had them with nothing in common, with no tenderness between them. That to me is the largest issue with the plot device. But interesting either way.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    To Laremy's point: a couple having nothing in common happens all the time. As an audience member, we're coming into this relationship at a very volatile point. We just don't know it yet.

    Which brings me to Brad's point: Like you, I identified with Bateman's character. I understood where the guy was coming from, despite his immaturity (Juno recognition needed et all ... nobody should defined by a single weak moment like that though). I also agree that Garner's character becomes more likable as the film progresses. This was tougher to pull off than I think people will give the makers credit for (though at the same time I think Brad is being way too hard on her character).

    Having said all that, I disagree 100% with Reitman on his take of Bateman. I don't pity him at all. I was actually HAPPY to see Garner and him break up. They clearly didn't belong together. He clearly wasn't ready to stop dreaming. Nobody can tell somebody else when it's time. It's a shame Reitman feels that way about the character. It was obvious the love was gone. If it wasn't, maybe I would have felt differently. Maybe then I would have thought Bateman's character a coward. But the love never really felt like it was still there so I don't. And I will also add that despite Reitman's personal feelings, as a audience member, I didn't feel pity for him so whatever directorial leanings he had ... they didn't register. I think the last scene between Garner and Bateman is fair to both sides and I don't feel like he was demonized. It just kind of leaves it to the audience to decide how they feel about the two and their situation.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com bradbrevet

    Obviously I think Mark was demonized, but that point is already established. I am more interested in how you think I am being way too hard on Garner's character? Did she not take Mark's hopes, dreams and interests and throw them in a room and hope he would never revisit them and when he did pretty much tell him to forget about it?

  • zaphod

    I have yet to see "Juno" but this discussion reminds me of "Knocked Up" where Paul Rudd's Pete is depicted repeatedly as a bad husband -- all the other characters refer to him at some point in this way. It struck me as unfair.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    You said "she's not a nice person". Looking at things through her eyes - and I'm not saying she's right - she's in love. She believes her husband is on the same page (and maybe she just really wants to believe it). He's successful making commercial music. She supports him in that venture. She figures the whole band thing is something he would grow out of and this is not a shockingly evil thing to believe. It's reality. Most people do. You can't fault the chick for that. I get it.

    So she's a little uptight, big deal. Her only crime is falling in love with this guy whom - in the end - has nothing in common with her. Bateman could have spoke up to her a lot sooner. Instead, he was playing silent and nodding his head. That isn't her fault. And again, I'm not saying Bateman is the villain. My view is these are two good people who just didnt belong together and the best thing that happened to them - and the baby - is that they didnt stay together.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    Have to disagree with you there as well. Anyone that walked away from Knocked Up not thinking Leslie Mann was the nutter in the relationship needs their head examined. Just because Heigl and Mann's characters bad-mouthed Rudd's doesnt mean the movie is making a judgement against him. Lets not forget when Seth Rogan spewed shit his way it came more out of anger at his own situation than anything else. Its simple: Mann's character was a little nutter and he shouldn't have been lying to her. Everyone has their faults blah blah blah

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com bradbrevet

    andre said: You said "she's not a nice person". Looking at things through her eyes - and I'm not saying she's right - she's in love. She believes her husband is on the same page (and maybe she just really wants to believe it). He's successful making commercial music. She supports him in that venture. She figures the whole band thing is something he would grow out of and this is not a shockingly evil thing to believe. It's reality. Most people do. You can't fault the chick for that. I get it.

    So she's a little uptight, big deal. Her only crime is falling in love with this guy whom - in the end - has nothing in common with her. Bateman could have spoke up to her a lot sooner. Instead, he was playing silent and nodding his head. That isn't her fault. And again, I'm not saying Bateman is the villain. My view is these are two good people who just didnt belong together and the best thing that happened to them - and the baby - is that they didnt stay together.

    Sorry, gotta disagree, controlling anyone's life because you thought they would grow out of it is not nice. She was controlling and rude. By your logic she fell in love with someone for who she thought he would grow up to be and not who he was. I agree they weren't a good match, but that doesn't make her any nicer.

    As for zaphod's comment I can see a mild comparison. However, most of the hatred thrown Rudd's way was a crazed wife (not exactly sure she was a "nutter") and a hormonal Heigl. I never got the impression he was being slammed by the film itself the way Bateman is being slammed by Reitman in Juno.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    Im not sure she was "controlling" his life. I have no evidence that she forced him to quit a band and do commercial music. Im not sure when they got together, but yeah, if you fall in love with someone when you're young you would naturally assume they would grow up and out of certain things. You'd be a fool not to. Maybe it was wishful thinking on her part, but that doesnt make her a bad person.

    When she told him his dreams werent going to happen, yeah, that was mean. But she was retaliating, lest we forget.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com bradbrevet

    Maybe I am forgetting something, but retaliating against what?

    Also, I guess I am just weird but why would you ever assume someone would want to grow out of enjoying music and being in a band? Why is that something someone would grow out of?

    People grow out of eating paste, partying like drunkard and skirting responsibility... People don't grow out of loving and enjoying music and even though I am not in a band or play an instrument I know people that do and they love it, they don't grow out of it. Mark is a successful businessman, he just wants to enjoy playing and listening to music. Yeah, he better grow out of that quick... Sooooo irresponsible and immature.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    She was retaliating from his lying and not being honest to her and waiting until the last minute before telling her the timing of having the baby was bad and that basically he didnt want to be with her.

    And you're not being fair by saying she expected him to stop loving music. That's overstating things a bit. She knew what music meant to him. Thats why he had his own room for that stuff. The whole house didn't need to be spread with led zeppelin posters for him to love music did it? Im not sure what she actually *did* to hurt him so badly.

    And by the way, he WASN'T hurt badly by her. I just knew they didnt belong together and he was scared to move out of his situation until Juno came around. And again, we don't know why he quit the band. He probably quit because he had this hot chick he wanted to take care of and he went the route of making music for commercials (this is sort of my impression).

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com andre

    And please, when did she tell him to stop playing or listening to music?

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com bradbrevet

    Okay, this is a little out of hand. My point is that Mark's possessions have been thrown into one room symbolizing his life while the rest of the house represents Vanessa and what she wants. I find this selfish and controlling. As Reitman said in my interview he feels Mark needs to just grow up, and forget about those things and be a man. I think that is wrong and I just wish Vanessa would have at least once considered Mark's feelings. If he had I think their relationship would have been a lot better.

  • http://www.moviefreak.com SaraMichelle

    What I like here is that you're all discussing this film so indepth. That should say a lot right there. Great films should provoke discussions, lengthy ones hopefully, and despite its appearance as nothing more than a charming coming of age high school comedy Juno has one heck of a lot more on its mind then people probably realize.

    All that said, I'm having a gigantic blast reading all this back and forth between you two. I'd add something to the conversation except Andre keeps making pretty much all of my points for me. Keep it up! It's much easier to read your thoughts then craft a coherent one of my own at the moment. It's a whole New Year after all and my brain is still pretty fried from the last one. :) :popcorn: :)

  • mattmaui

    What I believe you are missing is that Mark and Vanessa are treating each other’s dreams in the exact same way. Vanessa’s dream of having a child matches that of Mark’s dream of being a musician. Just as you say Vanessa is keeping Mark from his dreams Mark is doing the same to Vanessa. Just as Vanessa wanted nothing to do with Mark’s guitars and movies, Mark wanted nothing to do with the child. They both just kind f dealt with one another. What I feel to be immature of Mark (although I loved him and identified with him as well) is that Vanessa has the ability to realize her dream and he is still keeping her from doing so. I believe that Vanessa really did love Mark and would trust that if Mark had the ability and opportunity to realize his dream she would be supportive. Unfortunately it is clear (to both of them) that Mark’s dream is much harder to realize and will most likely never happen. I too am happy they split up, each one in love with their dreams and no longer one another.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com bradbrevet

    mattmaui said: What I believe you are missing is that Mark and Vanessa are treating each other’s dreams in the exact same way. Vanessa’s dream of having a child matches that of Mark’s dream of being a musician.

    See, I don't really look at it like that. I don't the dream of having a baby is the same as dreaming of being a musician. I don't think Mark's problem is necessarily being a father in as much as he doesn't want to be a father before he does other things, the things he hasn't really been allowed to do while married to Vanessa. Had Vanessa loosened the reins I think he would be more open to moving into making a family.

  • Royce

    I feel kind of bad posting in such an old review where the last comment was made almost 2 years ago, but I was brought here as I was trying to get my head round the same uneasy feeling I always get after watching this film and you hit the nail right on the head.

    Vanessa is portrayed as a cold, manipulating ballbreaker from the word go and then we are expected to swing to her side simply because she suddenly displays an overtly maternal side of her character. Great! Just because she goes all gooey over babies doesn't mean the controlling and dominant side of her personality is washed away - I can already picture the over-achieving parental hell that poor adopted kid is going to suffer...

    Maybe I'm just too empathic with Mark's predicament? I'm of a similar age and have suffered through relationships where my 'laddish' trappings have been passively but forcefully shoved to a quiet part of the house and where all the small sacrifices in the name of compromise, on reflection, always seemed to please her rather than me. I would always end these relationships before talk of children got beyond talk and honestly believe that any pain suffered at the time was better than infinite misery down the line had I carried on regardless.

    So you try again and again until you hit the right girl, where the sacrifices don't hurt too much and the jumble of personalities fits together nicely in the home, where the partnership really is a partnership. And I'm glad I waited for it.

    So yeah - why are we meant to see Mark as the immature fool, deserting his poor wife as she blossoms with expected motherhood? She has bounced up and down on his dreams and done her best to eradicate his personality from 'her' home; this treatment isn't going to improve when the kid finally arrives.

    The interview with director Reitman is telling. "The difference between me and Mark is that I stepped up" says Jason, clearly proud that his ability to reproduce and not run for the hills has been validated. But does Reitman's wife de-construct all of his dreams and place them into a small corner of the household? I figure no otherwise he wouldn't be making movies for a living.

    Mark is a dreamer and probably more than a little immature, but at least he has the conviction to try and see those dreams a reality and the compassion not to live a lie that will ultimately effect his child as well as his partner.

  • mfan

    As the song says: There's only you and me and we just disagree. I didn't see Vanessa or Mark as the bad guys. They had just never had an honest talk about their future. Or their lives. I often hear musicians who have made it say they gave themselves a deadline for either being successful with their music career, or moving on. I don't think Mark has given himself that deadline. Women will usually wait about a decade before they start losing it. While Vanessa can be seen as b**chy, Mark can be seen as a little conflict averse (wimpy). There's an old saying that if you don't control your own life, someone else will do it for you. One of the reasons, perhaps, people liked this film is it showed real situations in an entertaining way. I don't think many people saw anything out of the ordinary in Mark and Vanessa's relationship, in fact is was all too real.