Juno

Making up my movie list for 2007, I realized that I just don’t see enough movies anymore. So on the first cold, rainy day of the year, I headed to the Alamo Drafthouse for a movie and lunch. Sitting in the darkness of the almost empty theater, I felt that familiar thrill, the anticipation of entering into an alternate landscape and timescape.

Sometimes I find myself secretly rooting for a movie while watching it, hoping that it is going to live up to its promise and not make a wrong turn or embarrass itself. Despite the generally good press, initially I had my doubts about Juno. It took ten minutes or so for me to be drawn into the movie. In those early scenes the soundtrack is less accompaniment for the visuals than the other way around. I felt Juno wasn’t so much a movie as a big-screen music video. The opening credits and scenes scream indy coolness as does perky Juno herself. It was trying too hard. Also, in these early scenes, Juno is all wisecracks and insouciance. Getting pregnant is a bummer but she has a handle on it. No biggie. However, when the dialog comes to the forefront and the characters begin to reveal themselves, the movie engaged me. As it turns out this is how it should be. Juno’s not the kind of girl to reveal her inner self to anyone immediately. Over time we see beneath her facade. As she tells her father, “I’m trying to handle things beyond my maturity level.”

Much has been written about Ellen Page and she is a delight as Juno. But had the movie relied on her alone it would have been one-dimensional. The supporting cast, especially Juno’s dad, J.K. Simmons, and her step-mother, the always wonderful Allison Janney bring depth to the movie. They’re brilliant! Movie parents are so often caricatures, especially parents of pregnant teens. These parents are disappointed with Juno’s news but they are not hysterical. And when Juno is out of the room the roll their eyes and talk about her the way parents of teenagers really do. “Did you see this coming?” “Yeah, but I’d hoped she’d be into drugs or expelled from school.” Watching the interplay between Juno and her parents it is easy to understand where she gets her frankness and her earnestness. Most appealing to me was the matter-of-fact practicality with which all three characters faced the situation. What’s done is done; now what’s the plan?

I was reminded of last year’s Little Miss Sunshine. That movie really played up the family as a collection of mismatched eccentrics. Despite some very poignant and serious family issues, ultimately Little Miss Sunshine was played for laughs, a celebration of the dysfunctional family. Juno shows more restraint. It is more real and more genuinely sweet, and at its foundation it is a celebration of the functional family without any sticky sentiment. Juno always respects its characters, all of them, not just the protaganist. In Juno the resolution of the story rings perfectly true because it grows naturally from all that comes before. And yet, it was not a pat ending, or even a predictable one.

I disagree with Roger Ebert assessment of Juno as the best movie of 2007. However, I’ve only seen it once and many movies grow on me with repeated viewings, so I may yet change my mind. Ebert also says that Juno has “no wrong scenes and no extra scenes”. Not so. The scene with the women’s clinic punk receptionist was played too much for comedy and did not ring true to my own experience as so many other scenes did. Did Jason Reitman feel it necessary to villify the women’s clinic so that Juno could have some clear cut motivation to flee it? Most of the film is so nuanced that the scene seemed out of place. Also if Juno is so smart, I have to ask (along with her Dad) how did she get pregnant? Where was the condom? All of Juno’s moves are so calculated. This was by her own admission “premeditated sex”. I don’t think it’s in her character to be that dumb even raised in these times of watered-down sex education.

The movie Juno most reminds me of is Ghost World. That would make an interesting double-feature. Perhaps I’m imagining a similarity because there are so few movies about thoughtful teenage girls.

Myers-Briggs

Especially appealing to TJs.

Bottom line: Recommended

One Response to “Juno”

  1. Katherine Responds:

    As I said, I haven’t seen it, but perhaps the condom broke? Perhaps her Wal-Mart pharmacist refused to sell Plan B?

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