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JUNO

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J. K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby
Director:  Jason Reitman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Features:  See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  April 15, 2008

“So how far along are you?”

“I’m a junior.”

Film ***1/2

Is it just me, or are films of late becoming a bit more pro-life in their depictions of pregnancy?  Even in a raunchy comedy like Knocked Up, a woman with an unwanted pregnancy sees it through to the end.  In Juno, it’s a teenage girl’s turn.

Juno is the brain child of stripper-turned-blogger-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody, who won an Oscar for her debut script, and deservedly so.  This film is the rare teen comedy that offers wit, intelligence, humanity and heart.  It will make you laugh out loud, but it will also move you.

Juno MacGuff (Oscar nominee Page) begins the movie with the realization that she’s become pregnant after a one-time experimental fling with her best bud Paulie Bleeker (Cera).  Her first instinct is to have an abortion, but the most unusual piece of information turns her off of the procedure, and she decides instead to have the child and allow a deserving couple to adopt it.

The couple is Mark and Vanessa Loring (Bateman and Garner), a well-to-do childless pair who seem ideal.  Well, mostly.  Mark is a musician who writes commercial jingles, and Vanessa is a bit obsessed with perfection.  After Juno meets them, the long laborious (no pun intended) journey begins. 

The film explores teen pregnancy and life in general with a fresh attitude.  Some have complained the kids’ dialogue is a little too clever, but I think Diablo Cody’s gift is for taking her characters and giving them the kind of smarts that most people respond positively to.  And the script never follows a sure path; avenues that seem obvious like Juno’s burgeoning friendship with Mark don’t unfold as you expect, and even the romance as Juno realizes her love for Paulie doesn’t follow convention.  I love when she tells him he’s cool without even trying.  “Actually, I try really hard,” he answers, with a tone of self-depreciation that will make you smile.

The movie, directed by Jason Reitman, is a wonderful, comedic character study with a superb cast.  I haven’t even mentioned how terrific the venerable J. K . Simmons and Allison Janney are as Juno’s father and stepmother.  Their stalwart support of their daughter’s decision and what she has to go through as a result is just one of the picture’s many winning ways.

Of course, most of the story rests on Ellen Page’s capable shoulders.  She brings Juno to life as the kind of character we instinctively respond to, no matter what our age or station in life.  Her Academy Award nomination was well deserved.

But that recognition ultimately went to Diablo Cody, scoring the movie’s only win on Oscar night.  She came a long way with this screenplay, and one can only imagine what her future endeavors will bring us.

Video ***

The anamorphic widescreen transfer is very warm, with mostly good detail and only a touch of softness here and there.  The changing seasons throughout the story make for some good visual representations.

Audio ***

It’s dialogue-driven, but the spoken words come through clearly and cleanly in this 5.1 mix.  The songs, which I confess I didn’t like, still come across with snap and integrity.  Not a lot of dynamic range, but it isn’t really called for in this kind of movie.

Features ****

There is a terrific commentary track from Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody that’s an informative and entertaining listen.  Reitman is even secure enough to point out his own gaffes along the way.  There are also four production featurettes, 11 deleted scenes with optional commentary, screen tests, a gag reel, a gag take, a cast and crew jam (there were a lot of guitars in the film), trailers, and a Fox “Inside Look”.

Summary:

Juno was indeed one of the best films of last year, and intriguingly enough, the only Best Picture nominee with an upbeat ending.  It’s the perfect remedy for the Cineplex blues, especially in the comfort of your own home.

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