Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Numero Uno - Juno - Movie Review

Written by Diablo Cody
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney
Go here for free screening tickets in remaining cities.
Opens Dec. 5th in select cities, nationwide soon after.

I've actually had trouble writing this review and it's been in the works for a few days now. Not because the movie is terrible, in fact, it's the opposite. It's such a joy of a movie, I don't want to overpraise it for fear of building too much expectation for what is essentially, a small independent feel good movie. But Juno is REALLY REALLY good but REALLY REALLY good in that quieter indie movie way meaning nothing really happens and yet everything happens. It's whipper snapper smart and continually delightful and while sometimes it might seem like it tries too hard or veers into Hollywood schmaltz territory, it always surprises you with a quick adjusting turn back into indie territory. In fact, it's essentially the perfect example of an indie movie that can still be called a feel good movie without losing any of its credibility (and within the story, without any of the characters losing any credibility within its own writing). It's smart without being erudite, feel-good without being saccharine and fresh and realistic without being dull or slow. Just enough Hollywood to gain a wider audience, but not enough to disappoint the haters.

Juno is an age old story. Teenage girl and boy have sex. Girl gets pregnant. Girl freaks out at the abortion clinic and decides to have the baby. Parents freak out, but become supportive. Girl chooses to give up the baby for adoption and chooses perfect yuppie couple. Everyone is happy. Hollywood happily ever after. But without compromising any of the characters. THAT'S what so different about this movie. From Hollywood movies OR independent movies. No one slits their wrists here. No one takes drugs (although if it were up to Juno's step-mother, she would have preferred it!). It's a realistic tale with a smarter-than-your-average-pregnant-teenager as the pregnant teen who is surrounded by people who suck it up and deal with the situation. And yet no fairy godmother is here to claim all will go perfectly well and live happily ever after. Juno somehow manages to balance that fine line which is why in the end, I gave this movie such a high grade despite the (very few) flaws.

Juno, follows Juno MacGuff, a junior in high school who accidentally gets knocked up by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, again using his shy amiable charms to perfect use, Superbad, Arrested Development) and after an uneasy experience at the abortion clinic, Juno decides to keep the baby and give it up for adoption. First, that means telling her father (J.K. Simmons, showcasing a perfect balance between realistic anger and acceptance) and step-mother (another hilarious turn by Allison Janney, this time the complete role-revesal of her Hairspray role) and second, it means picking out parents to adopt her child, ones that look perfect like Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

So let me just get this out of the way first which I should have done earlier:


AND his TV dad JASON BATEMAN!!!????

And my favorite superspy JENNIFER GARNER???

Plus Canadian up and comer Ellen Page???!!!

Plus character actors extraordinaire J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney?!!!

WHAT A CAST! From the moment I heard this was in development I was excited. I mean, I've tried to ignore anything Jennifer Garner has done since Alias since obviously Ben Affleck, Electra and Catch and Release were big mistakes but I knew she had it in her to ACT and turn a balanced performance.

Jason Bateman is allowed to use his acting abilities here instead of mugging for The Ex or Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

So I'm glad these two hot actors are given great material here which just proves that good material can be EVERYTHING to ones performance (and career for that matter).

So here I'll talk about the negative. (Okay, there's two actually, the second one being that there are actually no scenes between Arrested Development's Cera and Bateman) Sometimes Diablo Cody's dialogue is TOO smart and TOO whipper snapper for something set in a typical local looking town, but luckily Ellen Page delivers it all with gusto, snark and heart but there are moments when it seems TOO smart for someone in her situation and in her surroundings. Nevertheless, Ellen Page is superb and is surrounded by a great cast all at their A-games in a movie that always seems to veer into Hollywood cliché territory but stays just crisp enough to be fresh, wonderful and feeling brand new. And again, the ending finally got me, clinching that moment when I switch from "it's a really great movie" in my head to "it's a really great movie" in my heart. Manipulative? Maybe, but deservedly done and handled with extreme care by director Jason Reitman (the enjoyable Thank You For Smoking).

I know people will inevitably compare it to last years indie breakout hit Little Miss Sunshine (if it hasn't already) but since I found that movie to be a well acted retread of every indie movie cliché (that wasn't already redone to death in the overrated The Squid and the Whale), I would actually defend Juno AGAINST that since I thought Juno is WAY better written and directed movie than those previous two. There is no need for a weirdly twisted family to create the drama. This time, it's just an unfortunate situation in a loving family turned upside down and the silver linings that can be found. That's what makes Juno so interesting.

The trailer for Juno is after the jump:

RSVP here for tickets to the free preview screenings in (tons of) cities across North America, but I would actually pay to see it again.

Juno = A or 9.5/10

For My Reviews of the other Best Picture Oscar nominees:

No Country For Old Men

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i was under the impression that Juno was directed by the same guy who directed Knocked Up because it's about an unexpected pregnancy, plus Michael Cera stars as Juno's boyfriend (he was one of the goofy kids from Superbad, a close relative of Knocked Up), but it turns out this is not the case