December 24, 2007

Movie Review: Juno

This year must hold the record for most films with pregnancy at its center. How often do you see a movie that centers on pregnancy as a primary driving force of the plot? 2007 has had three to hold that distinction. First there was Knocked Up, a brilliant comedy from Judd Apatow, which was as outrageous and over the top as it was realistic and touching. Next came Waitress, centering on the unwanted pregnancy of Kerri Russell, well, that and some delicious looking pies. Now, along comes Juno, which just may be the most realistic of the bunch. It is the second feature from Jason Reitman, who made a splash in 2005 with Thank You for Smoking. Juno is also the debut for screenwriter Diablo Cody and her uncanny ability to nail smart dialogue without it feeling unnatural, and could be the film to send Ellen Page to the next level when combined with last year's Hard Candy.

If there is one way to best sum up Juno, it would be with this line from the trailer: "Just out dealing with things way above my maturity level." With just those few words we are given great insight into the Juno character and the movie in general. Among the revelations: it is a quirky line that (along with the rest of the trailer) reveals the overall level of quirk in the film. Being part of an interaction with her father reveals a parent that is far more supportive than parents are usually allowed to be in this sort of film, and it shows a character that knows she is a kid and is not trying to act older than she is. All of this is a breath of fresh air, sidestepping the usual cliches, creating characters that feel more real and genuine than anyone is used to seeing.

The magic of Juno is not so much in the story, whose thread is relatively simple. The magic lies with the characters and their interactions with each other. Everyone feels like a genuine person rather than a construct. There are no parts whose mere existence is to move the plot along. Sure, some of them are needed to get from point A to point B but are never gratuitous. Even better than that, not everything is spelled out for the audience. All of the big points are there, but many of the relationships are either sketched or give the impression of depth between what is said and what is left out. There is enough room to read in so much to flesh out what is presented (although there is plenty of substance on its own). I'm getting ahead of myself.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) becomes pregnant. How does this happen you ask? Well, she was hanging out with her best pal Paulie Bleeker (Superbad's Michael Cera), and decide to experiment in a moment of boredom. Or course, this news is not exactly uplifting for the high school junior. Her first thoughts turn towards abortion, but a creepy vibe at the clinic squashes that idea and she turns towards Pennysaver looking for a couple "desperately seeking spawn." Enter Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). They are a seemingly perfect couple and the ideal candidates for becoming the adoptive parents of Juno's growing sea monkey. Oh yes, she tells her father (JK Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney) in a scene that reveals an understanding couple.

There is something about this movie that really hits home, and no I have never been in a situation similar to the one depicted. The dialogue has a wonderful flow; everything said is worth listening to. Every line works towards revealing something about the character delivering it. All of the main characters go through some sort of change and growth over the course of the tale. It all feels natural, all believable, and there is so much depth as the story deals with those issues above her maturity level.

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody have crafted a film that subverts expectations of the teen comedy. There are no villains, there are no hereos, there are only people faced with difficult choices that they must wrestle with. The characters, all of them, are, in a way, coming of age as they try to make the right decision as they discover new facets of themselves.

Beyond Reitman and Cody, the performances are near flawless. Ellen Page has fantastic timing with her witticisms and her realizations of who she is becoming. JK Simmons and Allison Janney are pitch perfect in their portrayals of supportive parents and what they must be going through. Then there are Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, there is a lot of subtlety to what they have to offer, which is a lot more than you may think at first.

Bottomline. Quite simply, this is a great film. It hits all the right notes and takes its time to reveal these characters. Juno is not a laugh out loud funny, but it will have you smiling and chuckling, with the occasional guffaw. It is rare that a film lands nearly everything, this one comes as close as one can come. Enjoy it.

Highly Recommended.


Anonymous said...

Well said. Page is just so good at delivering Diablo Cody's sarcastic, wised-up, Wilderesque dialogue and the rest of the cast is very good as well.

Juno has the makings of a cult classic.

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