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Monday, January 14, 2008

REVIEW - "Juno" (2007)

A few years ago a little indie film some of you may know as “Garden State” begged to have my attention through the hype of my close friends and critical acclaim. Before seeing the movie I tried to keep my expectations low and enjoy it on its own. While I didn’t dislike the film I held no such love for it that others did. It was overrated in my view—It was hyped as an instant classic that I’ve watched slowly fade in to the mind’s eye of forgetfulness. I just didn’t think it was that big of a deal. At the close of 2007 I was faced with something similar.

“Juno” has captured the hearts of friends and critics alike, and I’m called upon to see what it offers. I figure, seeing as I love movies, I want to see it if it’s good; and if it’s not there will always be great movies to see in the future. As I seated with a couple of my friends one them told me to drop my expectations and just enjoy it. As I had learned from “Garden State,” the damage was already done. I had heard it was a great film and I was expecting nothing less than a great film. To my bewildered surprise the movie ended with a great film in my memory.

The film begins with the title character (Ellen Page) setting up the scene. The sixteen year old, high school girl had sex with a close friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), and must face the consequences of pregnancy. The film, however, is hardly just a simple story about the hardships of being a pregnant teenager. Juno decides to have the baby, but give it to a loving couple once it’s born. Naturally, not all goes as planned and Juno wrestles with the idea of true love—A concept that has seemingly let her down in every corner of her life.

Juno is perhaps my favorite original character that has come out of 2007 cinema. Her mature nature is not unrealistic for a girl her age, but rare. She is still portrayed as a high school girl with weaknesses that any high school student has, but she sparks a certain charisma that makes everyone feel comfortable. The complexity of the character is mostly developed through comedy, but Ellen Page brings more than just laughs to the table. Juno’s emotional range is exponentially fleshed out by Page’s quick wit and liveliness. The fact this girl performed as she did at her age blows my mind. As far as I’m concerned, Page is the best actress of 2007. I know Kate Blanchett will probably be the inevitable Oscar winner, but Page has shown talent that is far beyond her years. I can’t wait to see what else she does.

The rest of the characters are also very well constructed. There really isn’t an unlikable character in the film when you think about it. Mark and Vanessa Loring are built up as more than just simple characters for Juno to hand the baby to. Their actions play a big part in Juno’s maturing. Bleeker is of course a very important character, but perhaps too much credit is given to him. This isn’t a chick flick and the audience could easily turn more attention to him than is really deserved. Juno’s dad, for instance, played by the very talented J.K. Simmons, has some of the best lines in the film, comedic and important. He was easily one of the most entertaining characters in the movie.

“Juno” has several moments that will resonate with younger audiences and older audiences would see as a good reminder. Some of the strongest moments include Juno’s talk with her father when she asks if two people can be together forever. Her final lines with Mark are also really powerful, but there is an obscure scene I want to point out that seems to act as a prefigure of events and messages soon to come. When Juno and Bleeker prepare for a science lab their two partners get in an argument and one leaves the table. These two characters, that we never see again, were a couple that broke up right in front of Juno. Why? We don’t know, but it’s just another reason for Juno to question the idea of love. We find early on that her dad had long since divorced her mom and remarried; and when other relationships fall apart in front of her what faith does she have? This is the underlying point of the entire movie. It’s not just about “growing up” or even finding out what true love is. It boils down to the search for selfless commitment. It just happens to take an enormous amount of love and maturing to find it.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what I would think of the movie until it reached its end. It kept twisting itself enough that I wasn’t positive I was going to enjoy the end result, but I did. What started like it was going to be a typical indie flick ended as one of today’s most important films regarding adolescence. Furthermore, surprise! It’s not preachy! It’s rich with soul and funny too!

Director Jason Reitman is writing himself an impressive resume right now. “Thank You for Smoking” was fantastic, but to come back with an even better movie? Very impressive. “Juno” is going to be a hard one to top, but as long as he keeps putting this much heart in to his films I’ll be there to watch them. “Juno” is one of the best movies of 2007 and, unexpectedly, it’s become a favorite of mine as well. Go Juno!

**** out of ****

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