Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Let's Talk About... JUNO

Juno Movie PosterI don't get out to movies nearly as much as I used to. But this weekend, my son was invited to a birthday party. So while he was there, I went to see Juno. It was time well spent.

If you look at this film objectively, it shouldn't work. It's a comedy about a teenager who finds herself pregnant after her first sexual encounter. What's funny about that? And the dialogue is so continuously quick witted and edgy, you find yourself wishing you knew people who talked that way.

So why does it work? Because it's brutally honest about the emotions beneath the humor. When Juno finds out she's pregnant, her first thought is to end it. When she meets a lone protestor in front of the women's clinic, it's not the usual rhetoric that makes her stop and think. It's one odd fact that sticks with her and won't let go. It makes the baby real to her. So now she decides to give the baby away. She and her friend look at "baby wanted" ads in the Penny Saver - next to the pet ads. Juno keeps her emotional distance by treating the whole thing as if it were no more than giving away a puppy. But as the story progresses, we see the turmoil this teenager is going through.

But perhaps the biggest reason Juno resonates and comes across as real, is the talented cast. As Juno, Ellen Page is a revelation. The unending stream of wicked one-liners that pour from her mouth come so naturally, you never think they're part of a script. She portrays Juno as one of those kids on the fringe of high school, the ones people usually don't notice, but are probably the most interesting in the entire school. The rest of the cast is equally wonderful, portraying real (if quirky) people coping with whatever life throws at them... with one exception. The one misstep here is Jason Bateman. As Mark, the male half of the couple planning to adopt Juno's baby, his performance is so low-key, I wondered if someone forced him to be in the movie. He seemed almost bored through most of it. I have to wonder if this was the direction he was given, because I know he's a better actor than that.

I loved Juno and would highly recommend it. But I will give you a caveat: Because the title character is a girl who decides not to have an abortion and to give her baby up for adoption, some have been calling this a pro-life film. I've also heard people say they thought it was a Christian film. It's not. Not specifically, anyway. It's a film about this teenage girl and how she lives out nine months of her life. The dialogue, while snappy, is also blatantly real. For example, when Juno goes into the women's clinic, the bored, facially pierced girl behind the counter offers Juno a "raspberry condom" then smiles and says that when her boyfriend uses them "his junk tastes like pie." If that kind of dialogue offends you, you might want to stay at home.

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