Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Frank Review of "Juno" (2007)

The Short Version? Snarky 15-year-old gets pregnant in the Quirkyverse.
What Is It? Indie Dramedy
Who Is In It? Kitty Pryde, J. Jonah Jameson, Alias, that chick from The West Wing and the two biggest guys from Arrested Development
Should I See It? Yes.

I only just saw Juno, much to the amazement of most people who know me and my taste in movies. It's true that screenwriter Diablo Cody reads like the lovechild of Daniel Waters and Amy Sherman-Palladino, and she even reminds of ex-girlfriends. However, there's enough of the hipster in me to sneer at the obvious debts owed. "Oh wait, now you guys are suddenly down with sardonic wit peppered with pop culture references and lyrical wordplay delivered with the lightning speed of '40s screwball comedy? I mean, the premise is straight out of Gilmore Girls, a show you refused to watch when I recommended it nearly a decade ago! Didn't Heathers also invent new teenspeak so a thirty-something could sound cutting edge, instead of like a tin-eared old fogey?" So yeah, I enjoyed Juno, but I'm still too fucking cool for this room, okay?

Ellen Page plays the title character in her best performance to date, making unbelievable dialogue ring true and selling her twenty years at 25% off with the aid of her five foot frame. Michael Cera is the suitably bewildered unintended father of Juno's bastard child. J.K. Simmons is unimpeachable in his warmth toward his suddenly expanding family, while retaining the right amount of prickliness and obliviousness to serve as Juno's daddy. Olivia Thirlby is the most obvious actual teenager in the cast, so it's understandable her being older in real life than onscreen BFF Page would come as a shock to the uninformed. Allison Janney is an absolute delight as Juno's supportive step-mother, though her own biting comments make it clear from whence Juno derives her acidic tongue. The screenwriter has such a strong voice, it could have threatened the individuality of a lesser cast, but these superior actors never allow lines to blur. To Cody's credit, she also writes characters of clearly variant intelligences with verisimilitude, a rare ability in my experience. Some of her characters are smarter than others, but she rarely condescends or overextends anyone for the sake of a gag.

On the down side, Cody's obvious contempt for yuppies sabotages the couple intended to adopt Juno's unwanted child. Jason Bateman never comes across as anything more than a dude trapped in an uncomfortable situation, and the only reason Jennifer Garner's character couldn't foresee trouble is because of her own obsessive, one-note performance. Rainn Wilson of The Office also has an obnoxious cameo.

One has to wonder if Jason Reitman hates the work of his famous director father Ivan, because where the paterfamilias's oeuvre is aggressively mainstream and disingenuous, Jason seems intent on zeroing in on truth and independent sensibilities. Jason Reitman is excellent at keeping the somewhat extraordinary characters and circumstances real, and maintaining the proper tone throughout the production. On the other hand, he also plays right out of the indie comedy playbook, from the pseudo-hand lettered notebook titles to the aggravatingly twee soundtrack cues, even as his characters constantly reference punk rockers like Iggy Pop and the Melvins.

All in all though, Juno is a joy; the smart, feel-good quirky hit of whatever year it made the most money, and deserving of every penny.

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