Saturday, January 12, 2008


I have heard some critics unfairly refer to Juno as “this year’s would-be Little Miss Sunshine,” although both films are solid and really quite different. Still, if we’re going to play that game, I’d more comfortably call Little Miss Sunshine last year’s would-be Juno, for here is a film I loved even more. More than the year’s best comedy, Juno has wonderfully refreshing dialogue, characters that consistently ring true, and a full palette of fine-tuned performances. Every moment charmed me.

The title character (played to perfection by Ellen Page) is a 16 year-old high school student who discovers that she is pregnant. She lovingly seduced her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), but had no intention of conceiving. Having seen countless movies involving unintended pregnancies, I was prepared for a string of stereotypical situations. How thrilled and blown away I was when Juno remained grounded and made countless right choices. How can a movie about teen pregnancy keep it real and also be uproarious funny? Even after seeing it, I’m not entirely sure.

The dialogue itself doesn’t necessarily seem real, but it does help overall situations feel genuine. Amidst heavy moments of great emotional complexity and confusion, characters stutter and fail to find the perfect words to say. Jokes appear when you would expect tearjerkers, and vice versa. Juno and her friends use slang terms so outrageous and inventive that even though the exchanges are simple, there’s a near elegance to them. It takes tremendous effort for scenes to unfold so effortlessly, and I’m sure that this film will spawn an army of imitators that think they can be as clever. Pulp Fiction is the ultimate example of a screenplay that many misinterpreted as “simply conversational;” countless knockoffs later, the script’s true brilliance was apparent.

Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner play the young couple hoping to adopt Juno’s child. They have perfect chemistry as spouses suffering from extreme communication failures; in yet another wonderfully authentic storytelling choice, the two aren’t even communicating about their lack of communication. Jennifer Garner especially impressed me with her subtle, nearly heartbreaking performance as a woman who wants a child more than anything, and has sought parenthood even to the exclusion of her husband’s needs. So many key moments are communicated through very few words, or even just through facial expressions. Every performance here is pitch-perfect.

Even though serious themes are at work, humor constantly abounds. For instance: when Juno goes to visit Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), Vanessa tells her, “Your parents are probably wondering where you are,” prompting Juno’s response, “Nah. I mean, I’m already pregnant, so what other kinds of shenanigans could I get into?” I’ll take this opportunity to issue a cautionary warning that not everyone will love this movie the way I do. The dialogue is extremely hip and witty, almost to the point of absurdity. No one can talk the way Juno does, and yet she kept a smile fixed on my face. After the first five to ten minutes, you’ll know whether or not it’s for you. Whatever facial expression you find yourself making early on, you probably won’t change it much (I recommend watching the trailer for a good taste of the humor).

The audience I was in really loved this movie, laughing and sighing at all the right moments. Juno is provocative, sweet, hilarious, simple, heartfelt, confident, and wonderful. Ellen Page will likely receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and I’d give writer Diablo Cody a nomination as well. This teen comedy has lovable characters, uncertainty, and teens that think and act like teens; it even features loving, supportive parents. There aren’t nearly enough great coming-of-age stories about teenage girls or pregnancy, but Juno is a marvelous film about both.

Click here to view the trailer.

For the Parents:

MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, and language.

As often as I lament the mistakes of the MPAA Ratings board, I think PG-13 is a perfect fit here. If you’re thirteen or older, you’re likely old enough to appreciate the humor, as well as the themes. If you’re younger than that, then you’re probably too young.

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