An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Juno (2007)
- Credit: Archant
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Juno: dir: Jason Reitman, starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Olivia Thirlby, JK Simmons, Allison Janney; Cert: 12; (2007)
Looking at a plot synopsis for Juno you don’t get the impression that this will turn out to be one of the sharpest, best-acted romantic comedies for at least two decades.
What appears to be a simple teen rom-com about a high school pregnancy is actually a witty, well-observed character-study about people and relationships. Penned by first-time writer Diablo Cody, it also celebrates the everyday use of language – great language – not as pay-offs or witty one-liners, the way that Woody Allen or Judd Apatow would use dialogue – but language that manages to entertain the listener while telling us something about the person talking.
Ellen Page turns in an Oscar-nominated performance as the eponymous heroine, a 16-year old high school student, who as she tells her ever-patient father (the world-weary JK Simmons), “I’ve been dealing with something way beyond my maturity level.”
It turns out that after a one-night stand with sometime best friend/boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) she finds out she’s pregnant. However, with the help of quirky best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) she doesn’t break the news to her Dad and stepmum (Allison Janney) until she has a plan.
With abortion out of the question, she discovers in the small-ads a well-to-do young couple (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) who are unable to have children but are desperate to start a family. She informs her parents that these young professionals will offer her child the best start in life – “because frankly I am ill-equipped.”
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The film is jam-packed with likeable characters and is punctuated with a hip, early noughties folk acoustic/indie soundtrack which punctuates the action and denotes the passing of time. There are also moments of rotascope animation, which echo the title sequence, dropped into the film to flag up the changing seasons.
Ellen Page’s Juno effortlessly holds our attention. She’s smart, self-assured and not afraid to be seen as brainy. Unlike a lot of her female contemporaries in school, she doesn’t step-aside so the boys in her life can bask in the spotlight. She takes the view that the spotlight is hers and if someone wants to share it then they have to earn it and be as clever and vivacious as she is.
As a result, a lot of the popular kids give her a wide berth. She’s too weird and too much hard-work. She can frequently be seen lounging in an out-sized armchair on someone’s front-lawn, smoking a pipe. But, in the quiet, geeky athletics star Paulie Bleeker, Juno has found her match. They may be polar-opposites personality-wise but they complement one-another perfectly.
The emotional heart of the film can be found in their relationship and in the quiet unshowy moments they share together. Together they display a maturity beyond their years but at the same time they remain 100% believable.
Juno and her Dad, Mac, played by the brilliant JK Simmons, also share some lovely tender moments when they discuss the possibility of true, lasting love. There are no trite, simple answers and it’s scenes like this that make this film stay with you long after the final credits roll.
But, there is more to this film than sharp dialogue and quirky characters. Director Jason Reitman takes a look at the whole idea of babies as life-style choices and human fashion-accessories. At one point in the film it is clear that Juno is far more mature than either of the prospective foster parents.
Jennifer Garner delivers a scary performance as the uber-prepared yuppie-mother who has read every pregnancy book and ‘modern mother’ style guide and yet isn’t connecting to the role/event as something organic, that she has really been yearning for – it’s more of a lifestyle choice. The real connection comes later.
Her husband on the other hand connects with Juno’s love of music and her left-field taste in films but it gradually becomes clear that this is his wife’s dream and the news that he’s not overjoyed about the arrival of a baby – sends Juno into a crisis of confidence.
This is a film with wit and humour, strong characters but also with a powerful under-current of drama. This is a movie which sets out to entertain but also has something to say about the world in which we live.
This is a contemporary film which gives a voice to a strong, independent-minded woman and doing so harks back to the sharp, witty heroines of those screwball comedies of the 1930s and 40s Myrna Loy in The Thin Man, Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, Jean Arthur in The Talk of the Town and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday.
These are huge shoes to fill but Ellen Page and Diablo Cody do it in style.