Saturday 23 April 2016

Movie Review: Juno (2007)

A teenage pregnancy comedy-drama, Juno is bright, breezy and refreshingly honest. Understated directing by Jason Reitman, a radiant Ellen Page performance and a witty script by Diablo Cody elevate the film to classic status.

In suburban Minnesota, 16 year old high school student Juno MacGuff (Page) finds herself pregnant after having sex once with her best friend and classmate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Juno considers having an abortion but cannot go though with it, and with the help of best girlfriend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), she reveals her condition to her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother Bren (Allison Janney).

Juno connects with childless yuppie couple Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), and arranges for a private adoption. Vanessa is desperate to be a mom, but Juno senses that Mark, a former rock musician now reduced to composing television commercial jingles, is not nearly as enthusiastic. As the pregnancy progresses Juno has to face scorn at her school, and her friendship with Bleeker is strained to the breaking point. She finds herself spending more time with Mark, and starts to question what it takes for two people to stick together and raise a family.

Juno is a small, lighthearted film that treats its subject matter with refreshing candor. The characters and events come across as simply real, free of theatrics, and a plain yet wacky matter-of-factness permeates through the economical 96 minutes of running time. This is a film about teenage pregnancy that contains no lectures, recriminations, episodes of tears or adult/child shouting matches. Instead, Juno is filled with the soul of grounded individuals carrying on and dealing with the stresses and issues at hand as best as they know how, and climbing the hill of the next challenge along the way.

There are moments of tension, with Juno and stepmom Bren having a hot/cold relationship and the realities of the pregnancy proving too difficult for Juno and Bleeker to deal with as a couple. But the film never descends into banal territory, and instead always latches on to the fundamental humanness of the characters, where humour, some cynicism and plenty of emotional survival instincts reside.

Diablo Cody wrote the original script with plenty of inspiration from her real life. She captures high school teen talk at its most fluent, Juno and Leah adept at rattling off the euphemisms reflective of their time, all conveyed with the attitude of 16 year olds caught somewhere between fierce individuality and the typical need to find acceptance. Juno has moments of childlike brattiness mixed in with lucid realizations of what the challenges of the adult world are all about, and the film shines in portraying a girl literally evolving into a woman, physically and emotionally.

Jason Reitman directs with a tactful yet distinctive touch, allowing the story and his main character to dominate, while adding nimble stylistic touches. Filmed in and around Vancouver and perfectly capturing middle class suburbia, the changing seasons represent the three trimester of Juno's pregnancy, the high school varsity runners pant year round as everything else changes, and the adults carry as much baggage as the high schoolers do, only it's less visible but much heavier. Meanwhile the distinctive music of singer-songwriter Kimya Dawson provides a backdrop of laid back lo-fi puzzlement, reflective of the typically warped high school ecosystem thrown further askew by Juno's pregnancy.

Ellen Page lights up the screen as Juno. The Canadian actress was 20 at the time of filming and convincingly plays at 16, bringing to the role edginess, humour and the over-excited self-confidence of a teenager. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman are delicious as the couple who seem to have it all, but with a palpable current of tension running from their tight smiles and into every room of their too-perfect home.

Juno is the perfect little film, a jewel of self-aware quirkiness.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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