Sunday, December 23, 2007

Juno (****)

Directed by Jason Reitman


It's wonderful to see a film that is as exquisitely executed as Juno is. The movie is being touted as the offbeat comedy of the year, and I believe that it truly earns that title, but I think it is a lot more than that. It very well could be the best offbeat comedy of the last several years. Using tremendous dialogue, and a slew of excellent performances, Juno is one of the finer films that I've seen about what it is like to make a connection with somebody else.

The film stars rising star Ellen Page as Juno, an edgy sixteen year-old girl who gets knocked up after her and her goofy friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) decide to have bored, living-room-chair sex. After chugging down gallons of Sunny D and taking numerous pregnancy tests, Juno realizes the unfortunate truth: she is pregnant. She contemplates abortion, until she realizes it would be more useful to give it up for adoption. She finds the perfect looking couple in the yellow pages in Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jeniffer Garner). Her A/C repairman father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and her dog-loving step-mother Bren (Alison Janney) both accept her decision, and off Juno is into the unorthodox world of teenage pregnancy.

The movie would not be nearly as good if all those characters weren't as superbly cast as they were. The strength of the film comes from the great chemistry between all the actors on the screen. Jason Reitman, hot off the success of Thank You For Smoking, does a very good job of balancing all of the supporting performances underneath the stellar work of Page. There are no characters here who feel like stock stereotypes, but there are plenty who you may feel like giving a hug.

The film was written by stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody. It is Cody's first screenplay, which makes it that much more impressive that she completely captured the essence of this bitingly humorous and incredibly charming story. This is not the first film made about teenage pregnancy, but it is easily the best. Cody does not settle for the sentimentality that most of those other films had, and instead the film flips a switch and it ends up it is not about pregnancy at all, but about people.

There are plenty magical little moments throughout the film, which is sparkling with wonderful humor. The wit of the dialogue, mostly spoken by Juno herself, is so quick and striking, you find yourself attempting to stop yourself from laughing so you can hear what is coming next. Throughout the laughs, though, the moments that stay with you are the conversations where you won't laugh. Many scenes in this movie are examples of Cody's beautifully written dialogue, my personal favorite being when Juno talks to Bleeker to tell him all the reasons why she likes him.

One of the twists in the film is Juno's relationship with Mark. A commercial jingle writer, Mark is constantly debating the possibility of being a father, while under the immense pressure Vanessa to grow up from his rock star dreams. Garner and Bateman's portrayal of the beautiful couple slowly crumbling is heartbreaking if not honest. Juno learns a lot about what lays beneath the surface of the beauty.

The film is easily a coming-out party for Ellen Page, an actress already known for her edginess after playing a 14-year-old trying to expose a pedophile in 2005's Hard Candy. Page completely embodies Cody's words, being probably the most lovable irresponsible movie teenager since Ferris Bueller. It's not just that Page is edgy or funny, she captures the heart of the audience with true sincerity. There is nothing forced in this performance. With Page we have the next great actress of her generation, and in this film, we have the best performance of her young, promising career.

Along with Page, Garner, and Bateman, the rest of the cast delivers first-rate performances. Michael Cera continues his wonderful year after Superbad, playing the tic-tac-loving Bleeker. His acute strangeness makes him perfect for Juno. Alison Janney is, as always, dependable as the strong-willed stepmother. Then, we have J.K. Simmons, giving one of his best performances as Mac. One of the best highlights of the film is a moment when Mac explains to Juno what he thinks is the concept of true love, the kind that lasts forever.

One thing that I shouldn't forget to mention is that the film has some great music spread throughout (highlighted by The Moldy Peaches' "Anyone Else But You") which is almost a motif because it is so heavily highlighted. Most of the music speaks like a Greek chorus for the movie, and will most likely stay in your head after you've left the theater.

The film does not promote teenage sex, nor demote it. What it does as a film is sit back and watch objectively and casually say, "That's life and those things happen", which can easily be said about a lot of moments in the film. We've seen all the characters in this films throughout our lives, homes, and, unfortunately, schools, but this film is not supposed to be any kind of lesson, but a document. A document about life and the things that happen which we don't expect.

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