Readers have their say on 'Juno'

January 20, 2008


Last Sunday, pop music critic Jim DeRogatis proclaimed that he hated, hated, hated the much-ballyhooed "Juno" -- both the soundtrack and the movie. Here are a few of the many e-mails he received in response.

I thought I was the only one who hated "Juno"!

John P Keating, Jr.

I'm sure using the word "hate" three times in one sentence in your column about the film "Juno" has elicited much response, and perhaps by the time you get to this letter, if you ever get to it, you won't have much patience for criticism, but I hope you will listen carefully to what I have to say and rethink some of your claims.

My biggest beef with your column is that you seem to insist that there are no kids like Juno in the world. You call yourself "a reporter who regularly talks to actual teens as part of his beat," but apparently you have never met anyone like Juno. This is unfortunate, because while they may be few and far between, they are out there.

I have been a high school English teacher for 20 years, teaching creative writing and other English classes to thousands of teens. In that role, I have not met very many Junos, but I can tell you they do exist. I can think of nearly a dozen kids, off the top of my head, who have inhabited my classroom, who were smart, sarcastic and wisecracking in much the same way that Juno is.

You claim that the film does not ring true because it was shaped by a 29-year-old screenwriter, a 30-year-old director, and a 20-year-old actress. Unfortunately, teenagers do not have the resources to make films about themselves, but if they could, the teens who would have the skill to craft movies worth seeing would be kids like Juno -- those rare, visionaries, whose voices rise out of the rubble of human speech and sound true because they are so cleverly sarcastic and wisecracking.

As I said, I've taught kids like that, many of whom have gone on to contribute to the arts in a significant and sincere way. Of course, no one heard of them when they were teens, but now they are making their mark. You have even covered some of them on your beat.

Mark Maxwell

DeRo responds: You were not the only reader to remark on my use of "hated, hated, hated," Mark. That was a nod to my esteemed colleague, Roger Ebert, who chose "Juno" as his favorite film of 2007; my favorite of his many fine books is, of course, "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie." Though Roger hated, hated, hated my piece, and gave me my comeuppance in his "Answer Man" column on Friday.

After twice reading your review of "Juno" in today's Sun-Times, I am writing to offer a different point of view.

First, I understand that you were reviewing the music and soundtrack, not the movie, per se, but you do give some personal opinions with which I disagree.

All movies have a story to tell. The plot of "Juno" gives one side of one person's decision. If Juno had used birth control, there would be no story. The real point is that even bright, self-empowered children make bad decisions and then have to live with the consequences.

I don't think the movie was "preachy." It didn't delve deeply into how Juno made her decision not to have an abortion or why she chose an open, private adoption vs. going through an agency.

In the "real world," I don't believe that any parent's initial reaction to Juno's situation would be as positive as portrayed, but this is Juno's story, not her parents'. They are portrayed as caring, loving, and supportive of her decision and I think most parents would get there, eventually.

As the mother of four adopted children, now adults, and the grandmother of five, I have said, "Thank you, God," many times that there were four young (ages 14-17) birth mothers who chose adoption.

I saw Juno with my 12-year-old granddaughter, who thought the music was "cool," the movie "good," and the text message short-hand "accurate." Contrary to me -- her old granny -- she knew all the music.

Marie Novotny

I hated it more than you. ... I had to pay to see it. Write on!

Marilyn Fried

DeRo responds: Generally, I only get reviewers' tickets for concerts, Marilyn. Movies are on my own dime. I did get the soundtrack album for free, though.

I just got done reading your article in today's Sun-Times and as a 15-year-old girl, I have to completely disagree. You seem to have forgotten about all the teenagers who aren't caught up in rap and hip-hop music and who happen to love the music our parents may have listened to at our age.

I saw "Juno" on Friday night and the moment I got home, I got the soundtrack. Not every teen is obsessed with Paris Hilton's new style or Jay-Z's new rap album. Simon and Garfunkel, who appear on the album, happens to be a favorite band of mine. I respect your opinion about the soundtrack, but honestly, you claim to be the father of an "almost teen" but who says everyone is exactly like your teenager? No one.


Your review of "Juno" could not have been more off base or poorly argued. Like you, I'll offer no examples or evidence of any kind to support my theory. To employ your argument's structure and thorough lack of contextual evidence: Are we really supposed to believe you saw the same movie we did?

Jeff M. Galus

Jim -- It's a movie, dude! Not a documentary. Talk to some teens and they'll tell you they liked Juno for the same reason they liked Ferris Beuller -- they are characters far cooler, far more confident and self-possessed than most teens. And they're funny. Having a kid and listening to lots of music doesn't give you any special insight into young people. Stick to your YOUR opinion, which is often interesting. Plenty of people (high school teachers, for example) have WAY more of a handle on what teens think. Enough to know they can't speak for them. Or be the arbiters of authenticity.

John Reda

Hi. I don't care about your opinion of the movie or my music. There are plenty of things I like that other people hate and plenty of things that people are crazy about that I think are painfully annoying, so whatever.

I do want to comment on the lyric you quoted as glib and insincere. I actually read every single e-mail and MySpace message and LiveJournal comment I get myself. I have no staff checking stuff for me. I personally write back to every kid in crisis that I hear from. I care a lot about people. I am in the process of setting up a support forum for people in crisis. I have personally driven to a fan's home and driven her to a rehabilitation center when she e-mailed me asking for help. I can't control how people perceive my intent, but I must try to clear up misconceptions about something I take so seriously.

Maybe you should read about why ...

Kimya Dawson

DeRo responds: Kimya, it's admirable that you read and respond to your correspondents; so do I. I am not saying your individual actions are glib or insincere -- I have no way of knowing, and that isn't what I'm writing about. I maintain, however, that those are two traits I have always heard in your music, as manifested by the lo-fi amateurism and celebration of the juvenile/infantile, going back to the Moldy Peaches. But that's just my opinion -- and hey, I didn't like Jonathan Richman after he plugged in and followed the same route/adopted the same attitude, either.

I just saw "Juno" yesterday, so the headline of your article caught my attention. I'm a high school math teacher (Ebert's age, just can't afford to retire), so many statements in your commentary rang true. High school kids just aren't as clever and cheeky as Juno's dialog allowed her to be. I, too, took issue with her understanding dad and shrewd step mom who never said they wanted to help raise their future grandchild. And I agree that the Jason Bateman character upstages the teenager with his longing for a musical career that seems so impractical.

But you're a music critic, not a movie critic. I know nothing about music. Nothing. Don't particularly like it. I listen to Christmas music. There. You know what that says of me. Would just as soon enjoy the silence of my house or car. Ironically, all my sons have been, or still are, musicians. If you're interested, my son Paul has a Web site at http://www.handmade

I understand he's "locally famous" in Urbana.

But to get back to "Juno." I think you're going to get a lot of contrary e-mails about it. There was a gaggle of teenage girls at the theater yesterday sitting not far from me who were captivated by it. Maybe they admired what they perceived of her daring personality.

I left the theater humming the music and thinking it was catchy in an "It's a Small World After All" kind of way. (Which nobody likes, but I wouldn't mind collecting its royalties.) But then, I'm rarely aware of soundtracks -- just a visual learner, I guess.

Anyway, I'm writing that your musical review of the soundtrack is probably right on target, but I have to agree with Ebert this time about the movie. I liked it despite the fact it was phony. Or maybe because it was.

Dolores Kotheimer

Dear Mr. DeRogatis: Thanks for an excellent critique of a bad movie. Until you I thought I was alone in hatred for it. My reasons are identical to yours. One must ask: Of what were the "other" film critics thinking? Could they not see through it?

Carl Johansson