Monday, January 28, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Juno

Juno (2007) 10/10
Juno (Ellen Page) is sixteen and pregnant. After seeking an abortion and then changing her mind, she decides to give her baby up for adoption.

Everything about Juno works. The strong individuality of the characters; quirky but not full-blown oddball, the honesty and frankness of the reality it presents, the acting, the mise-en-scène, all of it. Juno is about people who are flawed and unique; there isn't an emblematic role in the group. Jennifer Garner isn't The Uptight Yuppie, and Allison Janney isn't The Stepmother; they're all people, and they're all worth paying attention to.

The script is well-written, but what kept me laughing was exquisite delivery and timing. J.K. Simmons as Juno's dad keeps pitching his lines underhanded and soft, so you don't think much of them, and then wham! The landing. "Hey, Dad." "Hey, big puffy version of Junebug."

But let's get back to the frankness for a moment. I'd classify this movie as sex-positive, remarkably so nowadays. Juno is direct about her sexuality; she had sex and she got pregnant. She is confused about the sex but she enjoyed it. She is confused about the boy but she enjoys him. She isn't ashamed and she never allows her predicament to negate that. Her parents are unhappy about what's happened, but they stick by her and help her and don't hang a scarlet letter around her chest. The language is direct and real. She isn't "in trouble," she's pregnant. She isn't calling to "handle it" she wants "a hasty abortion." At the abortion clinic, the very funny girl at the front desk recommends she takes free condoms and is enthusiastic about their use.

But none of this is preaching. This is actually how people talk. In movies, people say "shmuh-shmortion" but in real life, people say the real words, and everyone knows, or should know, that sex happens, even when you're only sixteen. Juno affects a wise-beyond-her-years routine that's been working for her until now, and she's not dropping it just because she's in over her head.

And all of this sounds like some kind of life lesson, but the best thing about Juno goes back to my first paragraph; it's a movie about individuals, not about Big Lessons or Symbolic Characters. No one is on-screen to represent a particular choice, they're all there to be themselves, thankyouverymuch. They all make mistakes, and they all struggle to make fewer mistakes next time.

Yes, it gets touching. It kind of has to. And I shed tears. But it's not corny. Or too predictable. And none of our characters give up being themselves in order to tidy up the ending. For which I, and any other frequent movie-goer, has got to be incredibly grateful.

For all Juno's charm and intelligence and humanity, I actually came away mostly with the pleasure of a good laugh that wasn't mean-spirited or stupid, that celebrated its characters rather than mocked them, and that made me enjoy the act of being there laughing with them.

I haven't seen the other four nominated Best Pictures, but I'm glad Juno is among them.

(big puffy version of cross-post)