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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

JUNO (2007) - Jason Reitman

Every year at the Oscars, there’s one film that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the pack. A kind of film that’s no where as big as the others, dealing with smaller issues and featuring a cast of characters that are never meant to set the world on fire. Last year’s ‘Little Film That Could’ was Little Miss Sunshine. I have to admit, by the time I got around to seeing Little Miss Sunshine (the screenings were CONSTANTLY sold out), I felt that the film was over-hyped and not nearly as good as people made out. The same sort of hype surrounds this year’s LFTC, Juno.

Juno is a smart, witty, outsider of a sixteen year old girl. She doesn’t fit in with the rest of the school crowd, playing guitar in a band and being picked on by the jocks. At the beginning of the film, Juno is guzzling SunnyD in order to work up enough pee for a pregnancy test. After three such tests, the results are undeniable, she’s pregnant. She decides on an abortion, but after visiting the clinic, she decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption. After scouring the want-ads for couples seeking babies, she meets Mark and Vanessa, a seemingly perfect couple. Vanessa definitely wants a baby, but Mark isn’t so sure.

Juno is the kind of film that’s a hybrid of a coming of age story and teen comedy. It’s feels like the film Wes Anderson would have made if he took a stab at a teen comedy and toned down his signature quirkiness. It’s smart, but it’s not the kind of film that fits in with the Superbad crowd. Unlike the similarly-plotted Knocked Up, it’s not a laugh riot, but rather a charming, character-driven smart comedy. Written by first-timer (and currently 38th smartest person in Hollywood, according to Entertainment Weekly) Diablo Cody, the film is driven by the screenplay. Some have accused Juno of being too smart. That the younger characters in the film, Juno and her friends wouldn’t speak as wittily and smartly in real life. But all that is pretty much irrelevant. The script works very well and is damn entertaining. And that’s one of the most important things for the success of the film.

The other key element to the success of a character-driven film like Juno is the casting of the titular character, Juno. Director Jason Reitman made a wise decision in casting Ellen Page as Juno. Page delivered an outstanding performance in 2005’s brilliant thriller, Hard Candy. Juno is a confident, smart teenager. But she’s not wise. She approaches her pregnancy in the kind of twisted logic that would be expected of a young girl who’s more concerned with music and horror movies than the baby she’s carrying. And it’s to Ellen Page’s credit that she plays Juno so well.

Ellen Page is supported by a cast of actors that play their characters very well. Particular credit must be given to Jennifer Garner who plays Vanessa, one half of the couple who placed the ad Juno responds to. Vanessa longs for a baby. She can’t have one herself, and you can see from Garner’s performance that this hurts her. Despite her best efforts not to, she’s pinning all her hopes on the baby Juno’s carrying, and this longing is subtly carried across by Garner. Hers, and her screen husband Jason Bateman’s performances are far better than the performances they deliver in 2007’s appalling film, The Kingdom. Michael Cera, no stranger to comedies plays Juno’s one-time sexual conquest, Paulie. Cera has the nervous teen thing down to a tee, and while his character is less cartoony than that of Superbad, he provides excellent support for Ellen Page. Juno’s father and stepmother are played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, both excellent character actors.

Juno seems to have split some audiences. Some found the overtly witty dialogue grating and the film itself a little twee. But this isn’t the case at all. It’s a charming film. The script is certainly witty, and while there may be something to be said about how the characters speak, and how overtly smart and witty the dialogue is, it works within the context of the movie, and shouldn’t really be called into question. The actors are all very comfortable with their characters, and the cast is very likable. It’s in no way a perfect film, but Juno is very entertaining. If you failed to even smile at it, I’d call into question whether you do in fact, have a soul!


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