Monday, February 18, 2008

Honest to Blog - the rage against Juno

You've probably heard about Juno. It's garnered a lot of Oscar buzz, Ebert gushed that it is the best film of the year, and it has a 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I've seen it twice, once at a preview and once on a screener, and I liked it very much. It does have problems, and like anything overhyped, it can disappoint you if you expect too much. The first half hour is a well-planned patchwork quilt of quirkiness, which even soured me on the film on my first viewing.

Juno trailer

Riann Wilson of "The Office" has his small part in the very beginning, when Juno is using pregnancy tests in his convenience store bathroom. He gets the bulk of some stilted hipster dialogue that gets spouted as "unrealistic" when the film is pilloried as pap. I liked the scene, as showing where Juno is headed if she stays in her hipper than thou little high school world. I was that sort of kid in high school, I wore my torn up Army jacket slathered with slogans. If I went back to school like Billy Madison I'd probably beat my old self up.
The screenplay isn't pure unadulterated genius, but it is clever and does not put Juno on a pedestal. She is definitely glazed with a bit of nostalgia, and Diablo Cody (how I hate that pen name) seems to be looking back on her younger self and high school friends fondly and giving her the lessons she wish she had, not about pregnancy but about being yourself.

What I think the film has going for it is its mood, and several strong performances. I hated the opening credits with the animation, and the Moldy Peaches songs that litter the soundtrack. I was prepared the hate the movie until Juno told her parents that she was pregnant, and they didn't fly into the normal Hollywood Parent Rage. That sold me. J.K. "White Supremacist Guy from Oz" Simmons is great as her Dad, he's sort of clueless and knows it, and he knows more about machines than people. He's fleshed out and doesn't just show up when they need tension, which is what parents usually are in movies of this sort, plot devices. Her stepmother, played by Allison Janney, is equally tangible and has two scenes, one where she defends Juno and another where she puts her in her place, that are integral to the film's success.

Michael Cera plays his usual role, but he's used very well. A lot of people on the forums I frequent were disappointed that his part wasn't bigger, and that Juno treats him badly; he's the father of her child, and she says she doesn't love him in the first 5 minutes. Well, we aren't all that good with accepting our emotions at that age, and by the end of the film it's pretty obvious that Cera isn't just here to be the wishywashy punching bag he was so often in "Arrested Development."

Ellen Page herself puts in a strong performance and deserves a lot of praise. I liked her a lot better here than in Hard Candy, where she was still good but was written in one strident note. She gives the character strength but it's best during the key scenes when she drops her quirky facade to show a bit of weakness and confusion.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman play the adoptive parents, and both are great. Bateman has a thankless role as yet another warning post for what Juno could become, and Garner has a touching scene where she talks to the baby in Juno's belly, that proves that if she avoids crap like Elektra she can have a fine career.

I actually liked this more than Little Miss Sunshine, and think it has a better chance of nabbing some Oscars. Sometimes the nomination is enough, and for Jason Reitman and Ellen Page to get the big nod this early in their careers is award enough. It might get lucky if there's enough of a split between No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Michael Clayton. All excellent movies and more deserving in many ways, but drama always gets more credit than comedy.

A lot of internet nerds hate the movie for its dialogue and Page's character. I'm sorry she played a castrator in her last big role, but she's a hell of an actress. Not enough Michael Cera? It wasn't his movie, but he was still well utilized. The dialogue? Honest to blog, I hated the famous Pulp Fiction dialogue until I'd seen it three times. Wizard.

The end of the movie. Too much twee, but it fits.

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