No sane, self-respecting website would publish Ian Cohen’s review of the Juno soundtrack. Luckily, this website is neither of those two things.
With the possible exception of Passion Of The Christ, few recent films have been able to trigger a fight or flight response quite like Juno. It isn’t the province of religious or political nutjobs of either camp, but something almost as irritating: one can’t help but feel that Juno is acting a hand puppet for Diablo Cody, a reincarnation as a teenager that’s cool enough to hang with the cheerleaders, smart enough to talk like a Simpsons writer, hot enough to tempt Jason Bateman’s Melvins/slasher-flick loving jingle writer to leave his wife (Jennifer Garner), altruistic enough to forgo abortion and donate her baby to them in the first place and a big enough asshole to see herself as being above nearly everybody involved. It doesn’t feel like Cody envisions Juno being complex so much as perfect, and you’re put face-to-face with it almost immediately.
In a gut-wrenching scene during the movie’s first ten minutes, Ellen Page’s titular character runs into Rainn Wilson’s convenience store looking for a pregnancy test and the following dialogue takes place:
Wilson: “Your eggo is preggo, no doubt about it!”
Page: “Silencio! I just drank my weight in Sunny D, and I have to go, pronto!”
Michael Cera: Still Awesome
Cute and all until you realize that you’re being asked to make an emotional investment in a movie where these are the kind of things a 16-year old and a convenience store clerk are capable of saying to each other. It’s a tribute to the skilled professionals in the cast that Juno isn’t half bad despite having some of the most stilted and unrealistic script writing you’ll likely ever hear (see: “swear to blog!”). But if the jaded teens in Juno act like suspiciously whip-smart hipsters, the soundtrack is like its photographic negative- jaded hipsters obsessed with arrested development (no pun intended), talking out of both sides of their mouths. One side’s saying “can’t we all just get along,” but the other one’s saying “aren’t we fucking clever?” far more loudly.
From a brief eyeballing of the track list, one might think that the biggest potential pitfall might be a case of hyperglycemia (Moldy Peaches, Belle & Sebastian, The Kinks), but this is more akin to eating a handful of wasabi peas thinking that they were gumballs. As with the film itself, there’s a mean streak of condescension and narcissism in the soundtrack, best illustrated by its insertion of Sonic Youth’s “Superstar,” salvaged from a mid-90’s curio of alt-rock Carpenters covers. After Bateman’s character informs a pregnant Juno that he’s thinking divorce with a shockingly skeevy manner, in the ensuing freakout she exclaims that the Sonic Youth mix CD he burnt for her is a bunch of “noise.” Even as someone who doesn’t care for the band all that much, I can say that hasn’t really been accurate for the past two decades (what did he give her- NYC Ghosts And Flowers?), and the inclusion of “Superstar” (essentially, the original plus some mumbly vocals and feedback) feels like it’s out of spite, smugly assuming you agree with Juno.
For the most part, there’s an assumption from everyone involved that an overall sense of amateurish faux-charm will prevent you from ever calling them out on their bullshit. Juno OST ends with Page and Michael Cera doing a first-take of “Anyone Else But You,” a scene that ends the film as well. While the two are clearly untrained, the fact is, it’s indistinguishable from the Moldy Peaches version and the bulk of its surroundings, nearly everything sounding like a first-timer doing covers of “We’re Going To Be Friends” in their bedroom or Tilly & The Wall sapped of their vital horniness.
Barry Louis Polisar starts off the proceedings with the impossibly saccharine “All I Want Is You” (“if you were a river and the mountains tall/the rumble of the water would be my call”- it goes on like this), setting the stage for soundtrack linchpin Kimya Dawson (featured solo, as a part of Moldy Peaches and with Antsy Pants) to handle the lion’s share of what are basically bad folk songs, poorly sung and seeming to sneer at the genre they work in. At this point, is possible to get any enjoyment out of lyrics like “I was quiet as a mouse/when I snuck into your house/and did roofies with your spouse” being voiced in a bored monotone? Antsy Pants puts you in an incredibly uncomfortable position of having to evaluate the cutesy meanderings of a 13-year old’s mind (“Tree Hugger” and “Vampire” offer what you expect), and then you go to the Plan-It X website and find that Dawson seems excited by the mere fact that she’s working with a 13-year old. It shows what’s at the core of this soundtrack- the exploitation and fetishization of childlike naivete (and the Unexpectedly Articulate Wisdom there found), moving beyond interesting, beyond cute, into empty and nauseating self-absorption.
Granted, this is more a failure of concept than content- 99% of all records could only hope to have three songs on it as good as “Piazza, New York Catcher,” “All The Young Dudes,” or “A Well Respected Man” but even they feel cheapened by association. Unlike the thorny movie that it rose from, Juno OST feigns sweetness while surrounding itself by an impenetrable force field of irony. And yet, with her belief that 1977 represented rock music’s zenith, Juno exposes the biggest irony of ‘em all- basically telling me she’d enjoy this record about as much as I did.