December 15, 2007

REVIEW: Juno (B+)

Background: Brook Busey, a.k.a. Diablo Cody, was for a short time a stripper and City Pages blogger here in Minneapolis, though she hails from Chicago and now lives in L.A. A talent manager signed her to write "Candy Girl," a memoir about her stripping career, and soon after she wrote Juno, her first screenplay, which is directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking). It stars Ellen Page (Hard Candy) and Michael Cera (Superbad), with support from Jennifer Garner ("Alias"), Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development"), and Alison Janney ("The West Wing"). Also watch for Cut Chemist from Jurassic 5 as the chemistry teacher. Though the story is set in Minnesota, it was filmed entirely in Canada, as is always the case when taxes are considered. Based solely on the unprecedented local buzz surrounding Diablo Cody (remember, Minnesotans embrace any chance at the spotlight - she's not even Minnesotan!), I wouldn't be surprised to see her not only receive Oscar consideration, but outright win Best Original Screenplay. She already has several more screenplays in the early stages of production, so get ready for some overexposure.

Synopsis: Juno MacGuff (Page) is a 16 year-old Minnesotan high school student who is the definition of sarcastic. Paulie Bleeker (Cera) is her Tic Tac-eating best friend and the father of her unborn child. After considering abortion and telling her oddly excited parents (Janney and J.K. Simmons) the big news, Juno decides to give her baby up to adoptive parents Vanessa and Mark Loring (Garner and Bateman). During her pregnancy, Juno deals not just with her own relationship problems, but also Vanessa and Mark's. She has moments of cynicism, vulnerability and wit, and she is always acting older than her age. By the time the baby arrives, she has learned an important lesson about love (something cliched about finding "someone who loves you for who you are"), and everybody goes home happy.

I Loved:
+ The opening credits.
+ The last scene.
+ Michael Cera - a perfect combination of nerdy and cool, as always.

I Liked:
+ Jennifer Garner - she was terrific in this role, and not at all annoying.
+ Ellen Page - a rising star if there ever was such a thing.
+ Some of the throwaway lines: "All you have in your stomach is Taco Bell."

I Disliked:
- The complete lack of accents. I know Fargo was overdone, but if you're going to go to the trouble to set it here, you need to include them.
- The misrepresented diversity at Elk River High School. The student body in exurban MN does not look like a United Colors of Benetton ad.

I Hated:
- Parts of the first half hour, like the store scene with Rainn Wilson and the abortion clinic scene.
- Hearing the punchlines for the 27th and hopefully final time. What a classic example of trailers completely ruining the jokes.

Writing - 8
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: Juno is well-made in the hands of Jason Reitman, and it features great acting and a nice soundtrack. But I didn't find it "uproariously funny." It wasn't the premise or the characters that were off, but Juno's outrageous lines - and outrageous doesn't always equal hilarious. This isn't really a coming-of-age movie - Juno has already come of age, and she's a 30 year-old trapped in a teenager's body. As such, she was an annoying character for me a lot of the time. Diablo Cody, to paraphrase Michael Cera's character, was trying really hard to be cool, so much so that I felt like she should have been cast in the movie, since she clearly seems to think her humor is in a class by itself (though you could find it in both Rocket Science and 2 Days in Paris just in the last few months). I think Matt said it best when he said parts of it were "overwritten." The last half hour really saved the movie, because the characters were allowed to act and speak like real people would in those situations. In conclusion, Juno scores high on technical and artistic measures, but its main element of humor isn't universal, and its lesson about love is ambiguous and somewhat contradictory. Like the Lorings, Diablo Cody just filed for divorce - isn't love supposed to conquer all, with a sweet song at the end?

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