There’s something about ‘Juno’

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

“Juno” is the freshest film I’ve seen all year, even though if you look at the bare bones of Diablo Cody’s wonderful script, you’ll see it’s a fairly conventional coming-of-age story. But the bones are where convention ends.

The magic of this sharp and sophisticated script plus the best ensemble cast since “Little Miss Sunshine” plus Jason Reitman’s feather-light directing all equal the most satisfying movie experience of the year. It’s playing at The Visulite in Staunton right now, so you have no excuse for not popping over and enjoying totally yourself.

The title character, 16-year-old Minnesota high-school student Juno MacGuff, manages to get pregnant after having sex exactly once with her best guy-friend (nicely underplayed by Michael “Superbad” Cera), and the entire film is about how she and those around her deal with this fact.

(It’s rated PG-13, by the way. There’s a smidge of mostly-implied sex, condoms are revealed a couple of times, and of course there’s the unmarried girl theme – so keep that in mind when you’re deciding on whom to take with you.)

You know how, every once in awhile, you’ll see a movie that depicts a whole world that you just don’t want to leave? “Juno” is like that. Mostly because Ellen Page, the 20-year-old Canadian actress who portrays her, is so likeable. She’s a no-bullshit, literate, intelligent, utterly charming young empowered female and you just can’t help cheering for her all the way through the film. The Minnesota backdrop from autumn through winter and spring is slyly captured with just a few masterful strokes – the never-spoken-of weather, the endless groups of jogging high-school athletes, et cetera.

Juno makes the logical decision to have the baby and put it up for adoption, and the logical parents turn out to be Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. Jen’s desperate for a kid, Jason turns out to be not so sure, and they’re both interesting characters – like everyone in this film: no stereotypes in sight.

Juno’s refreshingly human parents are played by Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, and it’s invigorating to see parents of an unwed mother acting so mature. Unlike most screen parents, they love their daughter and trust (most of) her decisions, and are supportive.

Even Juno’s best gal-pal, played by Olivia Thirlby, is just a little gem of a role and is nothing but supportive. I can’t say enough about this crackerjack screen play and my admiration for its quirky author, Diablo Cody.

Cody’s probably the prettiest and smartest screenwriter in Hollywood. She’s an ex-Mad Ave writer, an ex-stripper, and after successful careers in both those rather off-beat industries, she’s somehow managed to write an honest and gracefully-caring story about a strong young woman – three strong women, now that I think of it – and how they cope with their problems.

Jason Reitman (son of writer/director Ivan “Ghost Busters” Reitman) is the perfect director for this film, following up his 2005 “Thank You for Smoking” triumph. You can just feel all the pieces falling into the right slots, and though the theme of the film is controversial, I think most people will be pleased with how it’s all handled.

The only almost-out-of-place scene in the film is right at the beginning, when Juno goes into a convenience store to buy a pregnancy test kit. Rainn Wilson makes a weird little cameo that happens much too soon and is over much too rapidly.

Within a few weeks we’ll have seen almost all the gaze-worthy films of 2007, and “Juno” will surely be on my top ten o’the year list – perhaps at the very top, unless “There Will be Blood” is as terrific as the buzz has it.

Once that’s out of the way, we can all turn and bravely face the future movie releases of 2008, assured that there will be a few pearls (like “Juno”) to be discovered down amongst the muck and mire.

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.


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