Top Gun vs. Juno

I realize this is probably one of the odder comparisons I’ve put together, but stick with me for a few and I think you’ll understand.

Now I will admit that the combo wasn’t intentional at all, but forced on me by circumstance (a 14 hour flight) and perhaps a bit of fate. I’d seen most of the first run films, so I delved into the classics pile and found these two gems that I have never managed to see before.

Top Gun is a perfect piece of 80s trifle, from the montages, to the hair styles, to the music. And the script took so many short-cuts that every line came out as a cliché or catch phrase. The movie couldn’t have been more heavy-handed if it had tried. And, oh man, it tries. It is visually stunning and full of great action and (indicated) big emotions. Its first and last moments are close to perfect for the testosterone ride it is, and for the lack of any real female influence at all; Kelly McGillis (We Are What We Are) may be smart, but she just doesn’t matter in this piece. It is unabashedly a bromance among the fighter pilots… if only any of them had a bit more chemistry together, now that might have added some interesting tension beyond the flying.

Juno is as small in scope as Top Gun is large. It was the launch of multiple careers and marked a resurgence of the indie film in recent times… well, the last 10 years anyway. It is a cast full of Oscar nominated and winning performers, not to mention writer Diablo Cody’s first script and Jason Reitman’s (Labor Day) launch into the zeitgeist.

But the surface comparisons aside, it was the music that sealed this post. Top Gun is loaded with music. Tons of top 40 hits and one of the syrupiest background scores ever created. Juno is likewise loaded with great music, mostly indies, and practically no incidental music at all (if any). While both are acted well within their boundaries, the music makes all the difference in how it affects the audience.

Top Gun is utterly provocative, trying to tell you what you should feel when characters are together. It insists you feel an emotional weight that neither Tom Cruise (Mission Impossible) nor anyone other than Tom Skerritt and Michael Ironside bring to the screen. In fact, it is close to 30 minutes before anything nearing an emotion enters the story, and it is those two actors in a 5 sec scene that make it happen. Much like the dogfights it features, you are pulled along this story, not participating in it. It provides the road signs in music you need to feel like you got somewhere, but mostly you just watch the pretty pictures.

Juno certainly has music to indicate moments, but it allows so much more to just exist, to allow you to feel what you will about the story in front of you. It isn’t a simple story, despite Ellen Page’s (X-Men) incredibly confident and solid performance which felt reminiscent of discovering Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. The decisions and situation are defacto challenging. The resolution follows no particular formula. The music and lyrics keep you both in and above the action and yet they pack a wallop. Somehow, though, that wallop doesn’t feel forced upon you as a viewer. The music is very much out of the lives of the characters. It isn’t overlaid or shimmed in; it is perfect.

These aren’t movies even close to the same genre, and it can be argued that the differences between the intended audiences dictates a different approach. For a high-octane male audience: a bit of push. For the indie, more thinking kind of crowd: more evocative. But movies are about making a connection. Every man (and some women) may want to imagine flying a jet into combat, being the hero, but that makes for a slightly hollow movie. So in the end, seeing these back-to-back had me judging them… they were both in the Classic collection after all, shouldn’t I be allowed to assess the veracity of that grouping?

I can’t really argue that either didn’t belong. Top Gun has a huge following, and potentially a sequel coming now. Juno is one of the most delightfully weird, wonderful, and female-positive films I’ve seen in a while. They each fill a niche and a purpose. But Juno is a great film while Top Gun is simply a good entertainment. That doesn’t make it less a classic, just less valuable to my mind.

Let’s put it this way, if the room was on fire and you could only save one canister of film (yes, they were still film then<g>) which would you save? Which could you watch over and over without gritting your teeth? Which brings you a sense of release and makes you feel positive by the end? Whatever your answers are to these questions is fine. You don’t even have to share your answers, but know and embrace them.. it can only lead you to more movies you can love.

 

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