In a recent Atlantic Monthly essay, Michael Hirschorn sniffed at the prevailing sensibility in indie-hipster culture. “We’re drowning in quirk,” Hirschorn wrote, worrying that the ethos had made virtues of insularity and weightlessness. The diagnosis was astute, even if the net was cast too wide. (Lump in Arrested Development and The Royal Tenenbaums with Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State? I don’t think so.) Hirschorn called quirk the “embrace of the odd against the blandly mainstream,” but that definition doesn’t quite get at the problem. For it’s not the embrace of odd that he was railing against, it’s the dumbing-down of it. In the movies, contemporary quirk has become less about opposing the mainstream but being accepted by it. The quirk-mongers of Indiewood, the worst offenders of them all, have drained the words “eccentric” and “weird” of all meaning. They have accomplished what mainstream culture normally does: they have banalized the marginal and the offbeat.
Enter Jason Reitman’s Juno. It arrives in theaters with a formidable aura of buzz and inevitability. Telluride and Toronto screenings played to enthusiastic crowds. Critics and journalists have been whipping out their thesauri to find new ways to say “edgy,” “hip,” and, yes, “quirky.” The sell job has been impressive: an interview with Ellen Page on Pitchfork, word-of-mouth screenings in select cities, and the sudden ubiquity of Diablo Cody, the former stripper-turned-blogger-turned-bestseller—talk about a publicist’s dream bio—now tipped as a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination for screenplay. But lest we be distracted from the movie’s merits by its hype, let’s state for the record: Juno is occasionally funny, rarely intelligent, and often annoying. A crowd-pleaser for people who like to think they’re above crowd-pleasers but are actually not, it’s going to be huge.
Click here to read all of Elbert Ventura’s full review of Juno.