Juno (9/10)

I’m gonna admit it – the trailers for this movie made it seem like some annoying cutesy sundance movie; the kind that prides itself on being quirky and offbeat, but whose foibles often just come off as contrived and self-congratulatory. So when the time came when I was at a theatre (for some reason this happens to me a lot), I had to choose between this, or…Alvin and the Chipmunks. Hello, Juno. Still apprehensive, I walked into the theater, and what greeted me onscreen was a lovely little tale with some surprisingly deep characters, a smart script, and some of the year’s best, acting, hands down. Movie aside, Amy Ryan from Gone Baby Gone, Ellen Page is here.

The movie begins with the titular character standing on a lawn watching an old beat-up cushioned chair, which we soon learn, was where her and her boyfriend did some activities that led to the main storyline of this movie – her being pregnant. She drinks a couple of quarts of Sunny D in just a couple of hours, to make sure she has enough urine to take her third pregnancy test of the day, that she purchases from a convenience store clerk (Rainn Wilson, The Office’s Dwight, in a glorious cameo). I balked at this. A ridiculous amount of Sunny D just to take a pregnancy test? Please. Cutesy self-congratulatory comedy here we come…the music as she walks back to her house after the third positive test of the day (yes, three; two wasn’t enough) didn’t bode well either. It seemed tailor-made to be magically pasted on to, once again, any sundance movie.

But then something happened. As Juno proceeds to tell everyone, from first her best friend, then to the father, played by Superbad’s Michael Cera, then to her dad and stepmom, she became more and more endearing. By the time she had set up a meeting with some parents (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to whom she would give the child once it was born, I was hooked. Juno (the character) is charming, witty, sharp, and has a simultaneously pessimistic and optimistic outlook on life, along the lines of, “sure, things suck, but they’ll probably get better.” Ellen Page deserves as many kudos as there are to give for her performance. She absolutely is Juno, from start to finish. Sometimes the script calls for her to deliver lines that are witty at the expense of the realness of the situation, but this is forgivable, as this movie contains some of the funniest lines I’ve heard all year.

But if this were all there was to Juno, I wouldn’t be giving it such a high score. So what else? The performances and the characters. I’m telling you, if there ever were such an obvious contender for best picture, this is it. It has that Little Miss Sunshine feel, which, though it ended up losing questionably to The Departed, was still a strong contender. One of LMS’s weaknesses was a family that felt just a little too quirky for its own good. In Juno, every single character is real down to the very marrow of their bones, and the performances contribute to this. Michael Cera basically plays his Superbad character of a nervous high school youngster, but he adds many little layers to it that almost transform him entirely. I believed this character would react to these things in this way. JK Simmons as Juno’s father is a great and perfect father figure; Allison Janney takes the touchy role of the stepmom and makes her absolutely wonderful; and finally, Bateman and Garner as the parents-to-be dazzle with their incredibly layered performances, which brings me to the absolute best thing about this movie.

The characters. Hands down, flat-out, rolled dice, and all that jazz. This movie has some of the deepest characters that I’ve seen in a film in a long while. It’s the kind of movie where you think you have the characters pegged right off the bat, but then as the movie progresses you realize how wrong you were, and not because they were shallow when you met them in the first place. If I went back and watched this movie, I could catch so many more nuances on Jennifer Garner’s face because I now understood better who her character truly was. This film plays with your expectations, and as you go along with it, you can’t help but fall in love with everyone, from little Juno all the way to her father. Bateman and Garner as the couple surprise the most of all, and characters which I initially thought I would hate for their shallowness turned into actual real people before my eyes. A film that can do this, and do this effectively, deserves some of the highest praise around. The movie just floored me so much that in a movie that I initially kind of wanted to despise, I ended up loving like none other. Not since Ratatouille’s charming and delightful story capture me up so much in its characters and world.

As I mentioned, though, there are a few flaws. Cutesy moments that, if done without, would have done wonders to make this a near-perfect screenplay. The dialogue is sometimes too conveniently clever; little quirky touches seem oddly out of place – Cera’s character eats orange tic-tacs, which Juno calls “his only vice”, and it’s never clear exactly why they’re a vice or why they’re present, other than the predictable use at the end of the film for a nice little happy moment. Narration is super-imposed over a lot of the film, but I really don’t think this movie needed narration to survive. I suppose it helps to cement it as Juno’s film, but to me it removed me from the reality a little bit. And finally, the music, though absolutely adorable (“Here is the church and here is the steeple; We sure are cute for two ugly people”), sounds a little too contrived and indie for me. I mean, I can appreciate cutesy music where applicable, but still.

Despite all this, though, Juno impressed me so much in other ways I have to give it a very high score. This movie may end up going on my best of 2007 list – it’s that good. Good performances, good screenplay, GREAT characters, and a story that will warm your heart this Holiday season like no other (sorry for the cheesiness there, I couldn’t help it), Juno is a strong candidate for the surprise comedy that came out of nowhere. It is directed by the guy who did the sometimes-too-clever and annoyingly witty Thank You For Smoking (which, don’t get me wrong; I loved), but that film is not something you would expect to come from a guy with the incredibly soft touch evidenced in Juno. A great, excellent, wonderful comedy.

I loved loved loved this movie. I can hardly believe how much I loved it. If you had told me beforehand that I would fall in love with this movie so completely I would have probably labeled you a bit on the nutsy side. Juno is a great comedy for people who are tiring of big Christmas-heavy blockbusters or Oscar-hungry pictures, and if you’re one of those…well, what are you waiting for? Go see it!!

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One Response to “Juno (9/10)”

  1. Great review… moldy peaches in the house, y’all.

    What the film lacked in plot was made up for in character development. great flick

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