Friday, 8 February 2008

Juno - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
Running time: 96 minutes
Certificate: 12A
Released: 8 February

Juno is the unlikeliest of American blockbusters. Written by former stripper Diablo Cody and proudly featuring a soundtrack by indie luminaries The Moldy Peaches, Cat Power and Belle & Sebastian, Juno was the little film that, after months of film festivals and art-house-only runs, exploded into a $100+ million-grossing, Oscar-nominated juggernaut. And no film is more deserving of such success.

A petite 16 year-old Minnesotan with uncanny wit, Juno (Ellen Page) gets knocked up after her first fling with nerdy pal Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She can’t go through with an abortion after being told by a pro-life protester that her baby “has fingernails”, so she quickly resolves to be a “martyr” and arrange an adoption. Through the “desperately seeking spawn” section of the free weekly, Juno meets an ideal couple in Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Mark and Juno quickly bond over shared affinity for punk rock and slasher flicks, while Vanessa’s baby fever threatens her yuppie husband’s arrested development. While Juno copes with things “way beyond” her maturity level, she still is a teenage girl with a crush on her unborn child’s father.

Michael Cera, with his weak chin, myopic stare and good intentions, shines in his best screen performance yet. Ellen Page, the young Buddhist-educated Canadian and star of the film, plays Juno as a tomboy with a heart of gold, masking the pain of her predicament with deadpan humour and idealism. Pages’ performance is unexpectedly touching, with the understated power of a real person who is inherently good. The story examines the process and complications of a situation that many viewers may be unaware of, and is a beguilingly fresh take on unwanted pregnancy. When deciding between the two local women’s health clinics, Juno decides on Women Now, since, as she so nonchalantly states “Because they help women now.” Oh, and did I mention that the dialogue is entirely quotable?

Juno, often unfairly compared to the lesser Little Miss Sunshine, is the latest and greatest addition to a group of recent films who are known for a particular indie aesthetic. If you have strong aversions to indie quirk, you might want to skip the first five minutes – it’s safe after Rainn Wilson gets off the screen or maybe after the boggling teen-talk on the burger phone. But Juno quickly finds its footing after this initial stumble. The sardonic teen girl banter eclipses that of Ghost World, and the sweet indie-folk/pop soundtrack is superior to that of the hugely successful Shins-breaker Garden State. It should be said that music is as important to the film as it is to any teenage girl who would wear a Slinky shirt over her baby bump, and though the sweet songs of Kimya Dawson and friends throughout the film have me smiling ear to ear, I suppose some might find it a bit twee.

Juno stands commandingly tall amongst the best American indie comedies of the decade, with an authentic nature that makes it more of a distant cousin rather than close relative to the work of Wes Anderson (that intro, with the Kinks song, really threatens to go the way of Anderson). Sure, the characters have their quirks – Paulie with his orange tic-tacks, Juno with her lawn furniture fetish, Step-Mom Bren (a sharp Allison Janney) with her canine obsession, and so on. But unlike in the films of its contemporaries, Juno’s characters refuse to be defined by their traits; instead Diablo Cody’s characters are respectfully and lovingly crafted, acted with great compassion by a stellar cast.

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