Saturday, January 5, 2008

[Movies] Juno & The Great Debaters

So I saw two movies today (officially yesterday, but I'm still awake, so...). Juno, the first, was an excellent movie, and if I was still subbing I'd be talking it up to HS students (to be perfectly honest). It's much, MUCH better than Knocked Up.

Juno deals with one woman (played to perfection by Ellen Page) who happens to get pregnant while a junior in high school. I am loathe to give away the plot, so let's just say that I am now in love with Diablo Cody, the movie's screenwriter - and Ellen Page, who puts on a terrific performance as Juno herself.

My one critique of the movie is that I wasn't sure what the point was - i.e. that I'm not sure how the characters changed as a result of the events that occurred when the camera was on. And while that might seem like a serious critique, I still think it's a movie unquestionably worth seeing.

For anyone who has seen it: What was going on with Mark (Jason Bateman)? Was he supposed to be sympathetically viewed? Was he (in the words of a friend of mine (sympathetic or just plain pathetic?


The second movie I saw today was The Great Debaters. As brilliant as it was different from Juno (and wow, was it different... apples and oranges, to say the least), The Great Debaters was a Denzel Washington-directed, few-if-any-holds-barred film that addressed (in a way this philosophy major could love) serious issues of race, gender, morality and ethics in early 20th-century America.

It actually reminded me of the potential upside of debate (a subject I am sad to say I've had poor experiences with): The issues that get debated are often the major issues of the day, and in participating, the debaters often get to sharpen their minds for the "real" struggles they will face in the world.

The Great Debaters is not a movie to be taken lightly. It is often brutally honest, to the point that the crowd I saw it in clapped, laughed, shouted and most likely cried.

I think that's another of saying that y'all need to go see it - now. Just make sure to bring your serious self when you do.


Cassie said...

Trevor and I saw Juno this last week as well, and I also really enjoyed it. I think your question about Mark is interesting, and one I have been thinking about over the last week. At first I wrote him off as pathetic, but I think there was definitely an effort in the film to make him a sympathetic character. I'm not convinced it was successful, but there were scenes that lessened my dislike for him.

Dennis said...

After talking a bit to the folks I saw Juno with, I decided I think Mark is a character held in tension as both sympathetic and pathetic on purpose. Certainly there are questions about what he really wants and whether or not that is morally acceptable in any sense.

But at the same time, I don't think we can dismiss Mark entirely - he is obviously unhappy with Vanessa, and telling him to just suck it up and be the perfect husband/father isn't going to work.

Anonymous said...

Pathetic. His life bores him, but he doesn't do a thing to change it until Juno literally knocks at his door. He's bland and dull, then kind of creepy, and in the end turns out to be a juvenile in a man's body.

And when we meet Vanessa, I think I groaned out loud. Stereotypical infertile, immasculating and uptight. Boo. BUT that first impression was slowly coaxed to the back of my mind as Jennifer Garner slowly unraveled the best performance of her career. Underneath it all, she is insecure and afraid, but wholeheartedly resolved to get what she wants. She didn't come off as immasculating Mark, because Mark wasn't much of a man to begin with.

Though I completely agree, I was under the impression that you hadn't seen Knocked Up, so what gives?

Dennis said...

Knocked Up was on the television one day when I was at my brother's house.

So I've sort of seen most of it. I wasn't anywhere near impressed enough to feel compelled to watch the rest.

Anonymous, you called Mark "a juvenile in a man's body."

I wonder if that would still hold if he had different interests that weren't being fulfilled.

It's easy to say that since he wants to be a rock star and likes horror movies, two things that are traditionally juvenile. But one possible reading of the character is that he never got to have his own life before settling with Vanessa, and he is trying to reclaim his agency.

Or something.

Anonymous said...

He's a "juvenile in a man's body" because he spent five years trying to make a family with his wife only to bail when it mattered most. He's a "juvenile in a man's body" because he fostered an inappropriate (at least it turned out that way) relationship with a sixteen year old. Sure, he liked "kid stuff," but that wasn't what made him a child.

Is that enough "" for you? :)

Dennis said...

"He's a 'juvenile in a man's body' because he spent five years trying to make a family with his wife only to bail when it mattered most."

I think this is the strongest argument, but I'm not convinced his heart was ever in the marriage or having kids. Given those two things, I think it means he should have bailed sooner.

What evidence was in the film that his relationship with Juno was wrong?

To be clear: I am not saying Mark's behavior was right. Not at ALL. But his poor behavior towards Juno was mostly implied or suggested, not stated outright, and I think that any conclusions we draw as a result are far more speculative than they would be otherwise.

Anonymous said...

However mature Juno appeared in the film, she is still not the adult in that relationship. From my perspective, he took advantage of her friendship. And you're right, that part of the storyline was not implicit. They didn't want to portray him as the bad guy because this movie wasn't about good vs. bad.

And just because his heart wasn't in it doesn't provide him with an excuse for treating others without compassion.

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