Sunday, January 20, 2008

Movie review: Juno

By Rick Morris

Reviews for the new Jason Reitman movie JUNO have been outstanding; it presently rates an astounding 93 on Rotten Tomatoes. These great recommendations are entirely appropriate. JUNO is an excellent movie and could well go down as one of the year’s best.

When describing it to a friend, I described it as a darker NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. While imperfect, that’s the best succinct description I can give for this film. It has the quirky indy-ish feel of DYNAMITE and some of the same weird-but-funny dialogue, but the subject matter of teen pregnancy is infinitely more serious than anything in the earlier film. Speaking of the dialogue, a minority of reviewers have found it off-putting because of the quirky nature of it – I found it amusing rather than distracting, as do most audiences apparently.

The plot is built around the sudden and unplanned pregnancy of sharp-witted young Juno (played by Ellen Page in a star-making performance), which resulted from one encounter with her best friend, the somewhat shy-and-awkward Paulie Bleeker (played by the always-outstanding Michael Cera). Bleeker is somewhat in the background of the movie, but his character shines in the scenes where he does appear. Given that he is so different in personality from Juno, the attraction to him that she displays fleetingly earlier on and then again later in the movie does not seem very easy to understand, but apparently the notion of “opposites attract” is supposed to apply here. Then again, although she is an interesting and appealing character, she is not in any of the “cool cliques” at school, so she would probably not be quick to see herself as much better than Bleeker.

Juno’s initial instinct was to go to the local abortion clinic, but after being approached outside by a classmate picketing the abortuary, she reconsiders inside. While this opinion has nothing to do with a cinematic review, I admit as a pro-life individual to being very happy with the message of an intellectually honest mother-to-be admitting to herself that what she is carrying around is more than a mere clump of cells.

Once she charts her course, she must deal with several people, most of whom are fortunately nice to her. Her father Mac is played in a good-humored manner by J.K. Simmons, which kept me on the edge of my seat – I kept flashing back to his scary role on OZ and kept waiting for him to snap violently on Juno! Her stepmom Bren (played by Allison Janney) is friendly and supportive. In a slightly amusing element to the film, Janney is not shot in a manner that reveals her true height so as not to tower over any other actors.

The adoptive couple she selects from a classified ad have some very interesting issues going on under the surface. Stepford wife Vanessa Loring (played by Jennifer Garner in fascinating fashion) and subtly uneasy hubby Mark Loring (portrayed by the great-as-always Jason Bateman) have the idyllic yuppie existence working according to the naked eye, but they get more interesting as the layers get peeled back. As Mark’s nostalgia for his older life continues to manifest itself, some interesting and disturbing directions get hinted at and viewers are kept off-balance as the movie advances.

Juno’s interactions with everyone around her are constantly entertaining, especially those with her scene-stealing friend Leah (played by Olivia Thirlby). An awesome cameo by THE OFFICE star Rainn Wilson will have you in stitches also.

The twists and turns in the story keep you guessing but do not in any way feel contrived. Regardless of what your preconceived notion of what a happy ending for the story might look like, I don’t think I’m spoiling the ending by saying that the direction the writers chose was satisfactory to me and I think it would be to most people. On a note that will be very funny to those of us in the FDH family, the Juno character has a lot of resemblance to our own Samantha Jones – she and her husband saw the movie and agreed strongly with my perception of this. Listeners of THE FDH LOUNGE program may notice this the next time she delivers a music review!

But the bottom line is that this movie does justify the strong buzz and approving reviews it is receiving. I recommend it strongly.

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