Saturday, January 05, 2008

FILM: Juno

George and I saw Juno this evening after several friends had recommended it. What a fun charming quirky jaunty movie! It had such an amazing sensibility to it, a combination of teen-outcast-rebel attitude and genuine innocence embodied in the character of Juno, a teenage girl who's both wise-cracking and wise beyond her years (sometimes). Imagine how Claire Fisher (the sarcastic and perenially pessimistic teen daughter on Six Feet Under) might have turned out if she had a sunnier disposition and grew up in a functional family, and that's Juno. I was a bit surprised to see that the writer (Diablo Cody) and director (Jason Reitman) of this film were not the same person, because it is infused with such a consistent sensibility and vision carrying through the witty contemporary teen dialog, the realization of the characters, the soundtrack, everything. This is a film about a pregnant high-school teen, and this core disfunctionality is surrounded by other peripheral disfunctionality (divorced parents, couples breaking up), and yet it is somehow firmly grounded in functionality, and a nostalgic innocence reminiscent of The Wonder Years. Juno messed up getting knocked up, but she's basically got her head on straight and her feet firmly on the ground, and she ends up doing the right thing in her own unconventional way. Part of the alchemy of the film was its sense of timelessness -- it was obviously contemporary in its language, music, and costume, and yet there was something about the neighborhood and the families that had a bygone "Wonder Years" feel to it (subtly reinforced with occasional pieces of kitsch -- like the football team in training running through various scenes, or the hamburger phone. I mean really, who has a hamburger phone?).

Actress Ellen Page gives Juno a winningly persuasive performance of a teenager who thinks she knows it all at the same time as she knows that she doesn't. (Much as I loved Amy Adams in Enchanted and Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray, I think Ellen Page has my vote for best actress in a comedy/musical.) Michael Cera more or less reprises his character from SuperBad, although he's gone to the Hugh Grant school of acting, so he's a bit more deer-in-the-headlights stammering, kinda dorky, but kinda cute and vulnerable. It works for Hugh Grant though, and here it works well for Michael Cera's American teenage version of it. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are both strong as the apparently-perfect yuppie couple, her determined but apprehensive about becoming a mother, and him stifled in his dreams of being a music star instead of composing jingles for TV commercials. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney give life and fun as Juno's father and step-mother.

It was interesting seeing this film after seeing Atonement. Both of them are very subjective films, although with Atonement the subjectivity is an integral part of the plot, while with Juno it's an integral part of the sensibility. Juno's views of her parents and her peers makes you laugh, but it has an underlying sophistication that sneaks up on you. It wasn't until late in the film that it really dawned on me how much we'd been seeing the other characters as colored by Juno's perceptions. That comes into focus late in the film when she has a loss-of-innocence moment, forcing her to find her way back to her core values (or forward to her self-discovery). The film has funny moments, poignant moments, and is ultimately reaffirming that even amidst the crazy disfunctionality of contemporary social life we can still hold on to the values we grew up with, but in our own way.

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