December 16, 2007

MOVIES: Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

It's been a year of unplanned pregnancy at the movies. There was Waitress and Knocked Up; the indie Stephanie Daley (which had only a short art-house run, and which I just received from Netflix this week); and the Romanian film that won at Cannes, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (which opens in Los Angeles next weekend). And now there's Juno.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is our mother-to-be this time, after a single sexual fling with her sort-of boyfriend Paulie (Michael Cera). She considers abortion, but can't bring herself to go through with it, as much because the clinic is a creepy place as because of any moral considerations. Juno decides instead to find a couple in need of a child and arrange to have them adopt her baby. An ad in the local PennySaver leads her to Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), who appear to be the perfect yuppie couple -- financially secure, devoted to one another, desperate for a child. At least, that's how they appear through Juno's 16-year-old eyes; their relationship is more complicated than it initially seems (as are Vanessa's and Mark's individual relationships with Juno).

This is one of the year's best movies. Diablo Cody's screenplay is sharp and funny, but it doesn't make the mistake of being just a punchline machine (though I was a bit worried for the first ten minutes or so); there's actually some emotional depth and character development behind the jokes.

The cast is ideal. Ellen Page, who was at the top of my Best Actress list last year for her ferocious work in Hard Candy, is just as good here, in a wildly different role. Juno talks fast and smart, but isn't quite as worldly wise as she pretends to be, and Page gets both the bravado and the confusion just right. Jennifer Garner is always best when she gets to play against her tightly-wound, impeccably presented surface -- in the "who can I trust" paranoia of Alias, for instance, or when she gets to be a kid again in 13 Going on 30 -- and this, I think, is the best work she's ever done. Vanessa is the one character in the movie who's notably not a fast talking, pop-culture referencing, smoothie, and her fear that she'll lose this opportunity if she can't find a way to connect with Juno is heartbreaking. The rest of the supporting players -- Bateman, Cera, J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney as Juno's parents, Olivia Thirlby as her best friend -- are every bit as good.

Happily recommended.

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