Juno
Director: Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking)
Writer: Diablo Cody
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick, Russell Smith
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 92 min.
read my spoiler disclaimer



reviewed by Andrew James
      In my experience, expectations are everything. They can single handedly make or break a film for a person. Having read rave after rave about The Toronto International Film Festival's darling, Juno (including folks in the third row), my expectations were through the roof. I've been so looking forward to this film for weeks. Finally it shows up in Minneapolis (where screenwriter Diablo Cody resides from) to a (that's "a" - singular) packed theater every night this week. I could hardly control my anticipation. And then the dialogue starts.

      Maybe it was the incredibly annoying audience that seemed to genuinely think that every single line spoken in this film and every sinlge facial expression is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Maybe it's the fact that Rainn Wilson is only in the first five minutes of the film with the most annoying, un-funny dialogue I've heard this year. Maybe it's 5 degrees (that's fahrenheit to our metric friends) in Minnesota and I'm cold and bitter. Whatever it is, I was turned off from this film from the get-go. Though it eventually won me over.

      The storyline is simple and surprisingly original. I say original because I can't think of another movie off the top of my head that revolves around a pregnant teen. I say surprisingly because I'm shocked the issue has not been tackled before (and often). Maybe it has and I've not paid attention. Still, the way it's portrayed here is certainly original in its cutesy sort of way. Anyway, the story goes as follows: because "she's bored," 16 year-old Juno (Ellen Page) gets pregnant from her dorky, high school friend, Pauly (Michael Cera). After deciding to not have an abortion, along with her supportive family and friends, Juno decides to give the baby up to a nice couple in the suburbs; played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Then it just trolls along and we watch Juno over the course of nine months dealing with the kinds of things a pregnant teen might deal with; again, in a cute and fun way - not a serious way.

      A side plot develops when Juno and prospective, adoptive father start to become friends and begin sharing music, movies and general interests with one another. This confuses the young man and he begins to have second thoughts about raising a child.

      The beauty of the film is in fact its simplicity. The audience prances along with the characters as they make their decisions and crack humorous jokes about various situations. Nothing overly dramatic ever happens and very little that would spoil the mood. And the good news is, the story doesn't seem to go where you think it's going. There is a curvy road and even a slight angled turn here and there. Notice I didn't mention twist, just slight adjustments to keep this film from being 100% predictable.

      The actors are all first class. From the likely Oscar-nominated performance of our heroine and star, Ellen Page, to all of the fine character actors that play their parts; specifically JK Simmons and Allison Janney. Both start out as the typical disapproving parents, but as the film follows its tracks, we find that they are really so much more.

      The role I found particularly surprising was Jennifer Garner. There's nothing Oscar worthy about the role, but it was nice to see her in something that isn't "ass-kicking" or a forgettable rom-com. She legitimately has the inklings of some real chops here and, like Juno's parents, her character gives the audience a pre-conceived notion of who she is, then slowly changes throughout the course of the movie. Her scene at the mall with Juno is particulaly impressive in which she absolutely lights up the screen. Only one of two scenes in which Ellen Page is overshadowed by another actor.

      Also, for the second time this year, a hometown film maker inserts several Minnesota inside jokes within the storyline. The first was the Coens' No Country for Old Men. Juno increases the number of local references ten-fold: Ridgedale Mall (the mall I went to in high school to hang), Mankato (where I went to college), Benihana (I went there for Homecoming too), the list went on and on. I eat that kind of stuff up; though the 500 people I saw the movie with are the only ones in the entire world that can get a kick out of it.

      The problem in my bitter experience is the unbearable dialogue. Don't get me wrong, it's incredibly cute and full of charm. That doesn't make it completely tolerable. In fact, too much cuteness makes me want to puke. A little bunny is cute. A little girl holding a bunny is even cuter. Add some balloons and a milk mustache and we're bordering on excessive. Add a springer spaniel puppy tugging at the hem of her dress and we've got a full blown disaster of an image. Now I'm not calling Juno a disaster - not by any stretch of the imagination does it come close to being a disaster. But is it a bit pretentious and unbelievable? Like, yeah, it totally is home-skillet.

      Juno's character maybe an exception, but no one I remember from high school (remember, this takes place in Minnesota, so I was there) talks anything like this. The vocabulary of Juno is completely unrealistic. Plus, she's too smart to be hanging with the cool kids (her best friend is on the cheerleading team) and way too cool and pretty to be hanging with geeks like Pauly Bleeker. Yet, she somehow manages both. Again though, it all comes down to the dialogue. I couldn't get past it.

      Every single line of dialogue feels written. Nothing feels natural about the entire screenplay. No one in real life talks likes this or behaves this way. At least not so fluently. Every character is just that, a quirky character for the audience to enjoy, not to figuratively sink their teeth into.

      Again, I don't want to be misunderstood as I'm sure to take flak for jabbing the gut a little bit of the darling film of the year, I DID enjoy the movie. It's got some laughs that are worthy (though it's not hysterically, drop to the floor hilarious), it's overflowing with heart and charm and most importantly showcases Ellen Page and the HUGE star she is sure to become. I can recommend the film to pretty much anyone with confidence that they'll enjoy themselves. On top of all this, I'd say the movie has about a 95% chance of being nominated for best picture. And maybe praising this film as one of the best of the year is just. But to me, when your entire picture hangs on the whims of the screenplay, and that screenplay never rings true in the slightest while attempting to a tackle a very serious and true issue, it simply cannot and will not enter my best of the year list. You may now commence with the hate mail.
     


Click "play" to see the trailer:


Links:
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
Flixster Profile for JUNO




 





andrew@moviepatron.com