QUADRIVIUM

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head?

Smash Cut – Juno

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UPDATE: Diablo Cody just won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

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Comedies tend to fair well when they can find that just-right blend of sincerity and irreverence, the kind that affects without offense, and gives without insult. This is, by no means, a cut and dry formula—sometimes, insults are called for. Irreverence can reach too far, or it can hit just the right note, and almost no creative effort gets it exactly right. Almost. Director Jason Reitman (son of the great Ivan Reitman), however, strikes it pretty close to the bull’s eye with Juno.

Wise-cracking 16-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) ends up pregnant after an ill-conceived liaison with her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). After first considering that an abortion might be the answer, an encounter with a peer protesting outside the clinic (easily one of the best moments in the film) gently changes her mind. Instead, she opts to give the child to a family that would want to adopt.

Turns out a married couple advertising in the Penny Saver just might be the answer, and the affluent Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner—both excellent) look like perfect candidates. As the film throttles into its second act, an amazing thing happens: this comedy actually gains some depth.

Juno and Mark share similar tastes in music and movies, and over the months, an awkward, covert friendship develops. The ignored Bleeker starts to move on, only earning more of Juno’s sharp scorn, and as The Date approaches, things start to unravel.

Here, doors fling open and offer many opportunities for the film to lose itself in cliché. It doesn’t. Instead, the film actually takes time to shut the doors and carve a new path, one much more interesting and refined. In fact, the only thing that arguably trips it up is Juno’s forgivable voice over, which pops in occasionally to tell us what we already know. And it still manages to make us laugh.

Everyone turns in a solid performance, and Page gives a career-defining and delightful apology for her stint in the debacle that was X-Men: The Last Stand. Characterization even manages to avoid stereotype, particularly Juno’s parents. Bren and Mac MacGuff (Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons) appear as rounded and fully-realized as they ought, and breathe a warmth into their roles that could have gone for something much cheaper and stale. Upon learning of their daughter’s pregnancy, the expected surprise and concern appear, but so does affection and strength.

Credit here has to go to screenwriter Diablo Cody, who even writes step mom Bren as a professing Christian, one that doesn’t make people want to run hide their crucifix. The first-time screenwriter even manages to give Jennifer Garner material that further coaxes her out of her Alias days to become one of the shining components of the film. Cody’s script refuses to devolve into sanctimony, and lets us bring ourselves into the piece to take from it what we will.

Maybe that’s why it’s earned such a mixed reaction within the fellowship of the church, and such films are great for starting discussions. It’s a dramedy that fulfills every good and right expectation of a story—to deliver an entertaining experience.

ThunderCats are go!

(photo courtesy: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

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Written by taj

February 23, 2008 at 10:38 pm

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