Sunday, January 06, 2008

Juno

In a word, touching.

I can recall few movies where I liked every character so much that I found myself wishing that I really knew them. It's even more rare that I encounter dialog so quick and so endearing that I want to hug the people who are intelligent enough to utter it. This is particularly true of the title character, Juno MacGuff, played with such edgy brilliance by Ellen Page that I feel if she doesn't win the Oscar this year, it will be one of the great injustices in the Academy's history of handing out statues.

Juno is a wise-cracking old soul who at 16 decides to experiment with sex with her friend and bandmate, Pauly (Michael Cera). Two months and four days later (not that she's counting), she finds out she's pregnant. After deciding that abortion was not the answer for her (following one of the most humorous trips to an abortion clinic ever put on screen), she opts to carry the baby to term and place it up for adoption. It is at this point she tells her dad and stepmom about her pregnancy (played respectively by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) in a memorable scene that establishes early the greatness of this movie. These people are so smart, so down-to-earth, so honest. They are the kinds of parents that every teenager wishes they could have.

Juno's best friend recommends that she look for adoptive couples in The Penny Saver, and it is there she finds Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), the quintessential example of yuppie wholesomeness. Or so it seems on the exterior. While Vanessa is wholeheartedly determined to be a mother, Mark is hanging on to the last vestiges of a youth where the dreams of rock stardom reigned superior to those of parenthood. This becomes most apparent when we begin to wonder if Mark and Juno are going to stray into a forbidden area. But even through this, the screenplay remains smart and it doesn't disappoint. It is a situation that shows us the depths of these characters and the care that went into their construction.

As much as I want to start firing off quotes from this movie, the joy is in their discovery. There were few scenes that didn't have me at least giggling, and most of them had me laughing out loud. It isn't "mean" laughter, however, or the kind that makes us get our kicks off of someone's misfortune. It is the kind that makes us marvel in the positive aspects of the human condition. It's the kind that, by the end, makes us want to hug ourselves, and that is so rare in comedies nowadays. Juno, both the character and the film itself, doesn't attempt to enlist our sympathies through schmaltz and cliche. It is a smart, uplifting, flawlessly wonderful film.

Gouda's Final Grade -- A+

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