The Theory of Chaos

Saturday, January 19, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW - Juno

Full review behind the jump

Juno

Director
: Jason Reitman
Writer
: Diablo Cody
Producers
: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick, Russell Smith
Stars
: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby


No matter how many thousands of movies I’ve seen in my lifetime, I still have the capacity to be surprised, and I relish it. 2007 has been a splendid year at the movies, and filled with surprises, and to the list of surprises, and of great movies of 2007, I’m overjoyed to add
Juno. It is a movie that transcends the preciousness of its style and the quirkiness of its various ingredients to become irresistibly whole, an inviting and human comedy that also contains the best of all surprises in 2007 – star Ellen Page.

Here is a young actress of uncanny honesty and preternatural instincts, who digs up every gem buried in the script by first-timer Diablo Cody and adds a few of her own besides. One of the great pleasures of movie-going is to see a star born before your eyes, and Page, a 20-year old who somehow synthesizes the troubled-girl hip of the young Winona Ryder with the sunny extroversion of the young Meg Ryan, may have won a few underground fans with her role in the thriller
Hard Candy, but should catapult to an entirely-new level after this performance.

One can only imagine director Jason Reitman (who previously made the wickedly-smart
Thank You For Smoking) watching the dailies of this movie and thanking the Gods of every major and minor religion that he got to play matchmaker for this actress and this role in this script. This is a tricky movie he’s making, a potential booby-trapped house of contradictory characters and provocative subjects laced with dialogue that is sometimes too arch and composed for its own good. But he, Page, and the rest of an impeccable cast venture forth with all love and no fear in telling the story of Juno McGuff.

Juno McGuff (Page) is one of those insufferable indie film names, and for the first five minutes or so of Juno you’ll be all but smacked in the face by some insufferable indie film dialogue, overtly hand-waving palaver of the type that always ties actors’ tongues in knots. But gradually you get to settle down, and watch what Page is doing, how within tiny spaces of behavior she can whip from intelligence to naïveté, from iconoclastic self-assurance to adolescent fear, and suddenly the words seem to relax into their proper rhythm, and let her take over.

The plot concerns the unplanned pregnancy that results from Juno’s first sexual experience, an afternoon whim with her longtime friend Bleeker (Superbad’s Michael Cera) that everyone who knows the two of them already understands was entirely her initiative. He adores her in that paralyzed way shy boys have, while she’s learning her feelings about him at a pace drastically inconsistent with her actions. Cody’s script has a knack for multi-track brains and self-deception in speech, and what’s so lovely about this movie is that Juno McGuff is not an unerring heroine but a girl with reckless impulses and a compulsive attitude towards independence. A girl with, physically and emotionally, much room to grow.

After some deliberation, she decides to carry the baby to birth and give it up for adoption. This means being the talk of her high school for several uninterrupted months, which is like a triple-dog-dare against her belief that she doesn’t care what people think. And it also means finding suitable parents, which she believes she has found in the Loring family.

Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) is a commercial composer and reluctant grown-up who thinks rock stardom is still in the cards, while his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) yearns to be a stay-at-home mother but is missing the crucial element to that job. Garner is on a high-wire here, showing a desperate desire that is sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking. One of the best virtues of Juno is that every character is dignified with the chance to surpass our first impression of them, and that’s a double-edged sword for some but especially enriches Vanessa.

The movie observes the resulting havoc of the pregnancy with warmth and wit. Through all the sarcasm and temper, all the misunderstandings, these are characters with an abiding affection for one another, especially for Juno. In most teen movies parents are either in absentia or boobs, but Juno’s father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney) get to be clever and understanding and supportive, to have their own lives and opinions, and to know their girl very well for better and for worse. In so many movies about pregnancy the characters seem to be chronic amnesiacs, going into hysterics every other scene as if just realizing what’s going on. In Juno, once the shock wears off and reality swells like Juno’s belly, the pregnancy acts as catalyst, a chance for characters to evolve, and show their true selves, and win our hearts.

Reitman is, with only his second feature, secure enough to not inflict too much of himself into the picture. He brings color and pacing, and an eye for when an actor is creating a little bit of magic, and how he’s not supposed to interfere with that. This is a movie chock full of skips and asides and curlicues of language, they are drips of sweet frosting, and Reitman has already matured to understand that it is not his job to just squeeze those out, he must see to the cake.

This is such a generous movie, such a sweet one. Story-wise it isn’t doing anything new, what makes it so ultimately satisfying is the enthusiasm of a new generation of storytellers. The fresh faces of Juno, in front of and behind the camera, are like teenagers discovering what their bodies are now capable of, and giddily eager to do something with them. In movie-viewing-hours I’m old, Juno makes me feel young again.

3 Comments:

  • WOW........reading your review gave me goosebumps! I loved this movie so much that...I wish, that just for a moment, it were real and I could just jump into their lives to escape from my own...::sigh::... I don't know what it is but this movie has me hooked. I can't wait for the DVD! :o) ~Julbers

    By Anonymous Julbers, at 7:56 AM  

  • Juno's mom's name is Brenda and she goes by Bren, not Bern. The third time I saw it i noticed that her nail salon is called Bren's Tens, which made me love this movie even more if that's possible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:01 PM  

  • 4:01- Thanks for the correction. Acting as my own editor does lead to the occasional cock-up.

    By Blogger Nick, at 4:32 PM  

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