Stuck between two worlds


A few weeks ago, I finally saw “Juno,” a movie I’d been told was “uber-cute,” “amazing” and just “soooo good.” And I’ve become one of many Juno-obsessed. But
unlike others who are doting mostly on the movie’s dialogue, soundtrack and sweatbands, the movie got me pondering about who really makes a good parent. And when.

The oddly idyllic portrait of teenage pregnancy — which began with a cartoon sketch, a hamburger phone and a big orange jug of Sunny D — introduced a smart-ass 16-year-old Juno (Ellen Page), who makes a very grown up decision. The perpetually tomboyish, ironic, T-shirt-clad kid realizes that she is not ready to be a mom. Instead, she’ll find the perfect parents to raise it.

But as the movie progresses into full color, we peek into a less-than-idyllic world of people and relationships. Oh my. We’re not perfect.

Juno supposes — but later learns otherwise — that she found the catalog-perfect parents for her accidental baby in the Penny Saver: Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a pearl-donning, somewhat anal character whose house is immaculate, and Mark (Jason Bateman), a former rocker, now commercial-tune composer, dressed in a V-neck, who makes clever jokes.

Somewhat annoying at first, Vanessa is ultrasmiley yet nervous, wears cufflinks, offers refreshments and says things like, “I’ve always wanted to be a mom.” Mark seems likable at first : the cool guy who claims he’s into having a baby. (Insert disingenuous smile).

It seems a perfect balance until (spoiler alert) the couple disbands, and Mark reconfigures to someone perhaps less than cool.

Wearing my retro Kicks, my baggy jeans, and snacking on wasabi peas that I sneaked into the theater, I am reminded of my messy front foyer, my unhemmed pants and my half-written life story. There’s no way Juno would pick me to be a mom. Certainly not alone.

But then again, would I?

I like to think I’ve led an interesting enough life thus far, if not always taking the bull by its horns, at least grabbing on for part of the ride. I’ve traveled, studied, worked (several places) and dated seriously (several men). I have my very own downtown chalet and a real job (and some on the side). I stay away from drugs and scoff at litterbugs.

But I also feel confined by, say, Ann Taylor’s too-perfect look. I think high heels are misogynous torture devices. I still dream of moving “out West” and away from the rat race. I ride a bike and a snowboard (and have scars and busted ligaments to prove it), let my curly hair run amok and use “dude” way too much for my age and job title.

Feeling a little squished, and fighting for arm space between my beau and a stranger as I watched the quirky and endearing “Juno” characters interact and some of their stories unfold, I realize that I am stuck between two worlds, perhaps between the childish sketch and the full color of the story of being a grown-up.

Perhaps I’ve been in this limbo for not loving myself, or loving myself too much, or not settling down, or settling, or any other assorted psychobabble. Maybe I’m just waiting for perfection — from myself or others. Maybe I haven’t been ready, or maybe I just haven’t found the elusive one, like Juno thinks she did at 16.

Now nominated for four Academy Awards, “Juno” is, in the end, uber-cute and a great romantic comedy that touches on important issues including teen pregnancy, abortion, love, who is really ready to parent and the proper use of “dude.”

I giggled and/or cried deliriously throughout the movie.

I was moved that Vanilla Vanessa got the baby, if not only for its message about a woman’s somewhat frightening yet deserved control over her own destiny, then for Juno’s mature decision. But as cool-guy Mark reveals his stupid T-shirts and his disinterest in growing up and disappears with his boxes of his past into a loft downtown, I sobbed.

Sure, the new millennium allows us to explore a bit more, be career women and marry later. We can, supposedly, go it alone. But that’s still second choice. Until then, we search — just a bit — for our balance and hope it works out.

Having always aspired to be an individual, a good person — an artist, maybe — a professional and someone who will make a difference in the world, I think I’ve done all right. And I remain fairly confident that I’d like to have an imperfectly perfect family.

But in waiting (debatably by choice) to choose a life-partner/procreate, I’ve also developed a real attachment to and fear of loss. Not, per se, of money or freedom but of identity — the identity that Juno has so clearly developed early on and which she wasn’t ready to forgo.

To me, if being a mom means I should adopt the qualities of someone who, for example, obsesses over what flavor to paint the wallpaper, or who becomes so stringent that she or her husband boxes up his or her dreams in exchange for parenthood and life, I can’t say I’m so interested. And if mall-walking becomes my main focal point? I’ll pass. (We won’t get into my fear of suburbia.)

I’ve generally felt pretty comfortable with my split conserva-hippy-indie-yuppy personality, and I know I can always get my pants hemmed or hire a cleaning lady.

But watching Juno, I wondered, even if I aborted my baggy jeans and T-shirts or my stacking-instead-of-filing system, might I always be squeezing myself and my thoughts into an allotted room while my real “grown up” life interacts with the Joneses, who may, in reality, be doing the very same thing?

Incarcerated images like that make me glad that my bright-red snowboard and banged up bike are still leaning against my living room wall.

Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at dlehon@yahoo.com.

There will be Jews at Oscar’s 80th


After some relatively lean years, Hollywood’s Jewish talent — as well as Israel’s — made a solid showing as nominations for the 80th Academy Awards were announced at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The biggest winners were brothers Ethan and Joel Coen, whose thriller “No Country for Old Men” earned seven nominations, while Daniel Day-Lewis, son of British Jewish actress Jill Balcon, qualified in the best actor category.

Israel’s “Beaufort,” by Joseph Cedar, a gritty movie about the end of the first Lebanon War, was one of five international finalists as best foreign language film.

It is the first time since 1984 that an Israeli picture (“Beyond the Walls”) has made the final cut in the category, though the Oscar itself has eluded the country’s film industry so far.

Day-Lewis earned his nomination for his role as a tough oil prospector in “There Will Be Blood.” The picture itself topped the field with eight nominations.

The Coen brothers won four personal nominations for best film, director, adapted screenplay and editing (the last under the odd pseudonym Roderick Jaynes), out of a total of seven noms for “No Country for Old Men.” Scott Rudin shared in the producing credit.

Jewish creativity was especially noticeable in “Achievement in Directing.” Besides the two Coens, nominations went to the multitalented Julian Schnabel for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and to Jason Reitman for “Juno.”

Competing with “Beaufort” for the Oscar is Austria’s “The Counterfeiters,” about a group of Jews culled from concentration camps by the Nazis during World War II to swamp the British and American economies with counterfeit currency.

Also in contention are Poland’s “Katyn,” which dramatizes the massacre of some 20,000 Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviets in 1940, as well as Kazakhstan’s “Mongol” and Russia’s “12.”

The songwriting team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz earned three out of the available five slots for their songs “So Close,” “That’s How You Know” and “Happy Working Song” for the Walt Disney film “Enchanted.”

British Jewish writer Ronald Harwood was nominated for his adapted screenplay for “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.”

Jewish names also popped up in a number of lesser categories.

Another Israeli film, “The Band’s Visit,” had been originally picked by the Israel Film Academy to represent the country for Oscar honors, but was disqualified by the American Academy because too much of the dialogue was in English.

The picture was subsequently entered by Sony Pictures, the distributor, in the general categories of best picture, director, screenplay, actor and actress, but predictably struck out.

The Academy Awards will be held Feb. 24, with producer Gil Cates and host Jon Stewart, both Jewish, at the helm.

However, due to the prolonged strike by the film and television writers, which Hollywood’s top actors are supporting, it is anybody’s guess whether the show will come off with the traditional glamour and razzle-dazzle.

Reitman follows heart to quirky ‘Juno’


When Jason Reitman decided to become a filmmaker, he was not only following the path of his father, producer-director Ivan Reitman, but that of his heritage as well.

“I think Jewish people are great storytellers,” the 30 year-old film director said. “Celebrating our heritage and our holidays has so much to do to with storytelling. We’ve survived so long, partly on our ability to tell stories. I love to make people laugh, and I’ve always had an attraction to telling stories.”

Reitman’s latest labor of love is “Juno,” a quirky, but sweet comedy about a “whip-smart” Minnesota teen confronted with an unplanned pregnancy.

“Well, it kind of caught me off guard,” Reitman said of the script by Diablo Cody. “I was in the midst of writing a screenplay when I was asked to read Diablo’s screenplay and I just fell in love with it. It was unusually written, very original, with characters I hadn’t seen before. About halfway through, I realized, if I don’t direct this movie I’m going to regret it for the rest of my life.”

“Juno” marks the debut screenplay written by novelist and blogger Cody, who first gained notoriety with her 2006 memoir “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.”

According to the film’s production notes, Cody wrote the screenplay for “Juno” while working as a phone-sex operator/insurance adjuster while living in Minneapolis.

“I love how original Diablo is, and we really get along,” Reitman said. “We kind of have a brother-sister relationship.”

The director and writer are already set to re-team for a second project; a comedic horror movie by Cody titled “Jennifer’s Body,” which Reitman will produce.

Originally, Reitman shied away from a film career fearing he would always be in the shadow of his father’s success.

“I always felt a sensitivity over being my father’s son and people feeling like the world was just handed over to me,” he told the Los Angeles Times in a recent interview. When he did finally decide to become a filmmaker, his father gave his blessing.

“He told me I needed to follow my heart,” Reitman recalled.

Ivan Reitman built his career as a producer and comedy director with films like “Stripes,” “Twins” and the mega-hits “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters 2.”

Jason Reitman literally grew up on the sets of many of his father’s productions. In fact, he was just 11 days old when he visited the set of the influential college comedy “Animal House,” which Ivan Reitman produced.

Jason Reitman launched his feature film career in 2005 with the critically acclaimed dark comedy “Thank You for Smoking.”

For that, Reitman directed from his own screenplay, which he adapted from the 1995 novel of the same name, by Christopher Buckley. Up until then, Reitman had been making short films and entering them in festivals. When he was about to make the leap to features, Reitman naturally turned to his father, whose advice was “to trust my screenplay.” Reitman’s debut feature proved the young director as a talent capable of handling mature subject matter.

For “Juno,” his second feature, Reitman has assembled an exceptional cast that includes Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and, in the title role, 20-year-old Ellen Page. Reitman says of his young star, “I’d seen her in a movie called ‘Hard Candy.’ Anyone who sees that movie can’t walk away without being impressed with her.”

When he met the Nova Scotia native, Reitman was sold immediately. “I couldn’t imagine anyone else reading the dialogue,” he said.

Page and “Juno” have both received rave notices at festival screenings around the world, including the Rome Film Festival, where “Juno” won the Best Film Award.

One of the themes that runs throughout “Juno” is of family, a subject close to Reitman’s heart. When 16-year-old Juno tells her family about her pregnancy, they are much more supportive than judgmental, a reaction that Reitman himself might embrace if confronted with the same situation.

“My wife and I talked about it, and I think if my daughter came to me at 16 and told me she was pregnant, I don’t think I would freak out,” Reitman said. “I’d be heartbroken, but I imagine we would be supportive of her.”

Reitman’s own relationship with his family may have contributed to his insights in that regard. “My parents have been very accepting with me. I’ve never had any kind of problem with them.”

Unlike many Hollywood offspring, Jason Reitman was raised in a stable and loving atmosphere. “My parents have been together for over 30 years and are responsible for me being the man that I am,” Reitman said. “I talk to my father every day. He’s helped me become the person that I am.”

Reitman also credits his mother, actress and director Genevieve Robert, with contributing to his abilities as a director: “No one’s better at story telling than my dad and my mom.”

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Pat Sierchio is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.