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‘Juno’ ***** Movie Review 071908
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The Work = *****
The wonderful Ellen Page stars as the titled Juno. (To see her in a very different and disturbing role, give a movie called ‘Hard Candy’ a try.) Juno is a teenager that at the start of the film discovers she is pregnant. This simple setup is how the movie begins and really what the whole feature revolves around. Juno is pregnant, she doesn’t want to be, and now she has to deal with it.
There are many, many, ways the film ‘Juno’ could have gone. Writer Diablo Cody crafts a story that is funny every step of the way. There is drama in ‘Juno’ too and yes at times the film deals with things that may not necessarily be pleasant. Part of why I think the film works so well is it is at once a bubbly teen comedy/ drama, not that far removed from something like say the ‘The Breakfast Club’, and at the same time a pointed character study about individuals who never seem like archetypes. Instead, they seem like real people with real emotions and real lives that are at stake.
That is not to say anyone is ever in danger of losing their life in ‘Juno’ but rather that they are looking at possibly having their world spun for a loop by the prospect of a new baby. Juno herself, has had life changed radically but does not want the baby. She doesn’t want an abortion (after an uncomfortable clinic visit) but doesn’t want to raise the child either. She talks to her parents who are disappointed that their young daughter is pregnant but supportive.
Juno decides to shop around for the perfect parents and, after spotting a want ad, settles on Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman.) The characters of Vanessa and Mark are the perfect metaphors for the quality of character in the film ‘Juno’. When they are first shown, they look like white bread cutouts in their baby want-ad. In a much simpler film they would have been the foils for Juno and her friends and family. True, there is some comedy to be had at the expense of Vanessa and Mark but they are treated like real people and not just archetypes.
Juno soon discovers that Vanessa and Mark may not be the perfect would-be parents after all. There is tension simmering below the surface of Mark and Vanessa’s relationship. The more time Juno spends with them the clearer it becomes that all is not so smiley and happy in their household. Juno’s growing friendship with Mark leads to a few genuinely uncomfortable moments that for a second almost takes the film down a quite disturbing road. The characters are all the magic of writer Cody and director Reitman. I’m not doing the film justice, it is funnier than I’m making it sound.
As I have said, ‘Juno’ is a broad teen comedy about a young girl who is not ready to be a mom but finds herself pregnant none the less. The characters are complex and the film takes a few turns that may be unexpected. ‘Juno’ works well and makes it look easy. The cast is uniformly strong with Page, Garner, Bateman, Michael Cera, Allison Janney, and J. K. Simmons all giving memorable performances. Cera is especially good as the hapless father of Juno’s child. Rainn Wilson also makes a funny and notable appearance early in the film.
I really can’t recommend ‘Juno’ enough. Yes, it is a teen comedy with passages of drama. Yes, it bubbly and light but don’t let that turn you away. ‘Juno’ is sharply written, cleverly delivered and nicely packaged by the cast and crew. The film is at once a bouncy teen comedy and a sharp character study that works pretty much all the way through. It approaches some questionable moments and then skates past them all the while seeming genuine and heartfelt. This is the second film I have seen by Jason Reitman following his first feature, ‘Thank you for Smoking’, and now I can’t wait to see his third. Highly, highly recommended.
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