Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Review of Juno

Juno (2007)

When I think of great films of the 2000's, there is one comedy that definitely comes to mind for me. That comedy is Juno, one of the best movies of its year and one of my all-time favourite movies. Nominated for four Oscars (winning Best Original Screenplay for a reason), Juno is a sharp and witty look into the life of a pregnant teenager and the couple whose lives she gets a bit too involved in. Besides the wonderful script, there is a cornucopia of brilliant performances, including the Oscar-nominated turn by Ellen Page as Juno herself. It also reigns as one of the most quotable movies of all time as well as one of the best dramedies. Dramedies are a tricky breed of movies, as too much of one element can make the other feel out of place, but Juno blends the two genres perfectly, making for a brilliant and memorable film.

Juno starts.....with a chair. Actually, it starts with Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), a funny and smart-mouthed teenage girl who finds out that she's pregnant by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). The only people who know at this point are her friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) and the hilarious convenience store clerk played by one-scene wonder Rainn Wilson. After considering abortion and rebuffing the choice, Juno has to fess up to her dad (JK Simmons) and stepmom (Allison Janney), as well as Bleeker. Thankfully Juno and Leah found a nice couple in the Pennysaver who will adopt the baby.

That couple is Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), a typical cookie-cutter suburban couple. The film follows Juno over the course of her pregnancy, exploring her relationship with Bleeker as well as her interactions with the couple. The film's interpersonal conflicts begin when Juno and Mark begin to bond over horror movies and rock music and she begins to spend too much time with the Lorings'. It doesn't take a genius to spot that Mark is unhappy and repressed in his marriage. It also doesn't take a genius to know that he is not ready to father anything. However, it is
Vanessa that insists upon having a baby and Mark appears to have no choice in the matter.

This would almost make Mark sympathetic except for the fact that he is a petulant manchild with a hinted-at yet never explicitly stated attraction towards Juno. Creepy. Regardless of whether he's into Juno (or if she's into him for that matter), it is made clear that he would rather go back to living as a teenager and would rather pursue his rock-star dreams as opposed to grow up. This dynamic between Mark and Juno is played brilliantly by Page and Bateman. Of course, this is one of two perspectives to take on the character, and that's what makes the film more interesting. You can see him as a petulant manchild who's a thorn in the side of his mature, realistic wife or a henpecked represed husband who happens to be married to a total tight-ass. The viewer's interpretation of him depends on their opinion of Vanessa. That is why I find him the most fascinating character in the movie, although not the most memorable, and that's why I have so much respect for Jason Bateman's performance in this movie, which is my favourite of his to date.  Just a brilliant character written by a brilliant writer, helped by an excellent performance which I honestly think Jason Bateman deserved an Oscar nomination for.

The script by Diablo Cody is simply brilliant not only in plot but in dialogue, perhaps one of the funniest scripts put to film. The script is sharp and witty, and rather than blather on about how great it is, I will share a few choice lines from the film:

"That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, homeskillet."

Mac (Simmons): "No, I know I mean who's the father, Juno?"
Juno: "Umm... It's Paulie Bleeker."
Mac: [in amusement] "Paulie Bleeker?"
Juno: "What?"
Mac: "I didn't think he had it in him!"
Leah: "I know, right?"

Juno: Can't we just like kick this old school? You know, like I stick the baby in a basket, send it your way, like Moses and the reeds?
Mark: Technically, that would be kicking it Old Testament.

That's only a taste of the dialogue in this movie, there are dozens of ingenious lines. The film won Best Original Screenplay, the only Oscar it won, and it was entirely deserved (despite its worthy co-nominees). Despite the hilarious nature of the film, the dramatic elements are excellent as well. In essence, Juno is a story not about pro-life-ism or any spectrum of the whole pregnancy debate, but about growing up. It is about Juno growing up over the course of the film, as she starts out as a typical immature teenage girl, but becomes more mature over the nine months. It's also about Mark's unwillingness to grow up, and while Juno is successful in her coming-of-age story, his story is yet to be told and if it was ever told, I don't think it would end well.

Ellen Page plays the role of Juno, and she gives a phenomenal performance, both comedic and dramatic. She is a very talented actress, and Juno is probably her most iconic role and likely always will be, as it earned Page her first (and hopefully not her last) Oscar nomination. She has decent chemistry with Michael Cera, who also gives his best performance here. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am generally not a huge fan of Michael Cera. I don't think he's a bad actor, I just think he's a one-trick pony, and he hasn't done anything to convince me otherwise. Here, his one trick works best, as he plays Juno's best friend and the father of her baby. He's decently funny and although he doesn't stretch far in terms of acting, it strangely works.

The secondary cast is amazing as well. First, there are two awesome performances from typical awesome secondary character-actors JK Simmons (Jameson from the Spiderman movies, who has made a career out of being awesome) and Allison Janney. He plays the supportive father and she plays the far from evil stepmother, and both are hilarious as well as heartwarming. Olivia Thirlby is great as Leah (who seems to be the ditzy cheerleader, but is still a loyal friend to Juno), Bateman is great as Mark (as I priorly said) and Jennifer Garner is excellent as Vanessa as well. All in all, this has a fine ensemble cast with a slew of amazing performance.

When it comes down to storytelling, Juno is a coming-of-age story, and a damned good one at that. It is one of my favourite movies of all time, definitely in my top 20, and I give it my strongest recommendation for anyone who hasn't seen it, as well as anyone who has. I wouldn't say it is without flaw, but I would say that it is a dramedy masterpiece and one of the greatest teen films since the Hughes days of the 80's. It's nice to see smart teenagers, not the vapid teenagers (teenage girls especially) that are so present in films nowadays. There are brilliant performances, a fantastic Oscar-winning script, great characters, and I forgot to mention, a pretty good soundtrack. In short, Juno is not a must-see, but it is damn great and I give it my highest recommendation possible and if teenagers watch more films like this, we may have smarter teenagers.

9.5/10- EXTREMELY highly recommended

1 comment:

  1. I was genuinly surprised by how much I really enjoyed this film. I especially loved the "didn't know he had it in him" line. Terrific review, Rachel