saw things so much clearer, once you... were in, my... rearview mirror.


Friday, January 4, 2008

She's Having a Baby: "Juno"

"Juno" doesn't stray far from the cliches of it's "coming of age" genre but still manages to breathe life into a story that could have otherwise been typically melodramatic and pseudo-inspirational. It's refreshing to see a film about overcoming life's obstacles that trades in romanticism for pragmatism.

"Juno" is the story of a pregnant teenager, Juno. So, you might guess the rest of the film right? She shuns abortion and chooses to have the baby. There's tension at home, at school and with the baby's father but in the end everyone who matters will rally behind her and the baby. Then you'll sigh with a tear in the eye and go home morally reaffirmed. Well, that's roughly it, but "Juno" has enough plot twists and idiosyncratic characters to keep you interested throughout.

Juno is played with perfection by Ellen Page, who's previous role in X-Men 3 under-emphasized her talent some. She's a very strong willed, witty and charismatic girl, yet, at sixteen she is far to young to be a mother. The father, Paulie Bleeker (Micheal Cerra), is a clueless dud - albeit as totally earnest and as adorable as his name. For purely secular reasons Juno chooses to put her child up for adoption.

Juno is resolute in her decision despite the suspicions of the otherwise picture perfect adoptive couple, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman). Unlike Juno's blue collar family, they are the stereotypical yuppies with a big empty house, nice cars, professional portraits but no child - and Vanessa is dying to have a child.

Mrs. Garner plays a convincing yuppie here, as does Mr. Bateman - Mark isn't a far cry from Micheal Bluth, the character from the television series "Arrested Development" that earned Mr. Bateman his fame. Its interesting to note that both Mrs. Garner and Mr. Bateman just recently appeared alongside each other in "The Kingdom" - quite a different film altogether. Micheal Cerra doesn't stray far from his "Arrested Development" character either, which is great if you're a fan.

Director Jason Reitman is obviously no stranger to pragmatic storytelling. His previous picture was the major success "Thank You For Smoking", which he also co-wrote. That film was a pragmatic look at big tobacco, this one a pragmatic look at relationships. In Smoking Mr. Reitman seamlessly blends farsical scenes and hokey fast forward effects into a film that is otherwise straight forward. These stylistic touches are replaced in "Juno" by effects and music that elicit a comic book feel (think "American Splendor") but without getting too cutesy or weird. This touch is perhaps informed by, or maybe inspires, a scene in which Juno is presented with a Japanese comic book about a pregnant superhero.

This time around, the film's writing credits go to Diablo Cody, who's name could easily be a stripper's, except that when she stripped she apparently went by the monikers Bonbon, Roxanne and Cherish. Mrs. Cody spent a few years working in advertising and moonlighting as an amateur stripper before quiting her job and pursuing the dancing career. Then like any educated and marketing savvy stripper, she wrote a blog, then a book and now an fine screenplay.

It is perhaps unfair to simply cast "Juno" off as another "coming of age" film. While "Juno" is undeniably about a young lady coming to terms with impending adulthood, it is also about adults who haven't quite come to terms themselves. In this vein it follows in the footsteps of classics like "She's Having a Baby" and the recent "Knocked Up" but without so much humor or redemption.

This is all well and good, but what makes "Juno" a great film actually had little to do with growing up or having babies. "Juno" is really all about false impressions. Unlike another recent indie success, "Little Miss Sunshine", the characters in "Juno" aren't what you think they are from the start. A fault of Sunshine, which was in every other way a great movie, was the flatness of it's characters; the fate of each was predictable. The son's only path was to talk, the father's only path was to lighten up, the uncle's only path was to grow a pair, etc.

In "Juno" your first impressions are misleading. You might think Juno is strong but really she's stubborn, you might think Paulie is a wiener but really he's loving, you might think Mark is cool but really he's selfish, you might think Vanessa is a bitch but really she's responsible. Therein lies the strength of this film, it draws you to pass judgment on each character then the turns those judgments upside down. "Juno" pulls your finger, then points it right back at you.

Maybe its time you grew up too?

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