Oscar Ramblings On Juno And Once

This Sunday night is Oscar night on ABC and two films in which music plays a vital role are in the running, the multi-nominated “Juno” and “Once” which is up for Original Song. I like both films very much, but each walks a fine line in addressing the complexities of (how should I put it?) movie-life and real-life.

Let’s start with “Juno” — it’s a true breath of cinematic fresh air, but it’s characters speak and behave in a manner that’s equal parts hyper-reality and fairy tale. Now, “Juno” lovers before you go into ninja defense mode listen to what I’m saying. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s lines for the character Juno are spitfire terrific, and actress Ellen Page delivers them with deadpan brilliance — but they are not the words of a real 16 year old girl. They are the words of a crack adult writer passed through a character who’s world view is a little beyond her years. It’s a hoot and a half to listen to Juno unleash her indie-cred quips, but could you really place them in a flesh and blood teen in her situation?

So does that make “Juno” a bad movie, or an insincere one? Absolutely not. The movie is bursting with snarky good fun. Juno and her lovable flake of a boyfriend, Bleeker, deal with her pregnancy with warmth and humanity. Everyone in Juno’s circle recognizes the problems her pregnancy creates, but no one runs away from the circumstance. The idea here is, let’s work it out — not let’s run away. That’s honest and down to earth advise, but “Juno” has a story to deliver as well as a baby and that’s where the fairy tale factor starts pushing its way in.

Music? Oh yeah, this was about music too. Big points to Ellen Page for convincing director Jason Reitman that The Moldy Peaches were the way to go. It’s a perfect match.

What about “Once?” Sorry, I was on a bit of a rant. The song “Falling Slowly” is nominated for an Oscar. It was written by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who play the quirky Guy and Girl in this home grown musical. Like “Juno”, “Once” puts you in a very real place, Dublin — then starts messing around with movie-life and real-life.

The basic storyline of “Once” brings an Irish street singer together with a Czech immigrant. This Guy and Girl — we never learn their names — turn out to be just about everything the other needs. Their work on a demo tape charmingly brings them closer and closer together — but past relationships, his girlfriend in London (who dumped him), her husband back home (who left her with a child but then checked out) complicate matters. Director and writer John Carney wants “Once” to be about the music, and that’s fine, but I think he has a tin ear for romance. This couple is just so appealing together, keeping their relationship all about the music doesn’t quite ring true. In movie-life you can keep these two apart — I’m not so sure it would happen in real-life.

By the way, the songs in “Once” are so organic to the story they simply can’t be separated from the film. You can listen to them on a CD, but your brain will immediately start showing you the movie in your head. That’s a very special thing.

Oscar predictions? “Falling Slowly” has a real shot in the song category. “Juno?” Longshot for best picture, but I’m going out on a limb for Ellen Page — I’m saying she’s the upset winner for best actress.


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