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in praise of 'juno'
the little film that could is an instant classic
by jason gilmore (@JasonGilmore77)

It is good, as one is aging, to find something contemporary with which one fully connects. Even if, in the case of Jason Reitman's brilliant sophomore directorial feature, Juno, a major appeal is in the film's timeless appearance.

Many of John Hughes's '80s films (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, etc.) are usually regarded as The Model for how you do teen movies, because they are films that generally do not condescend to teens and find humor in realistic human scenarios. (The brilliant Ferris Bueller's Day Off notwithstanding. And Weird Science too.) Still, what is most lovable about them is also what makes them flawed: they are firmly entrenched in the '80s. The hairstyles, slang and clothes are a dead giveaway, and consequently, a possible distraction to those who do not remember those days well (or fondly).

One area where Juno surpasses these films, is in Reitman's decision to make the film as one that would not fit into any particular decade. He said in several recent interviews that in scouting several high schools, he was horrified by the abundance of cell phones he saw. So Juno has no cell phones, computers or technology at large. The pop culture references stretch across decades. It could be set in 2007 or 1997 or 1987. This was not an inconsequential decision. Juno's unwillingness to ground itself in a specific time forces us to focus on the story, and how much that story reflects on each of us.

Juno is the story of an idiosyncratic Minnesota teen (Ellen Page) who becomes pregnant after sleeping with her best friend, the passive, track-obsessed Paulie (Michael Cera). She decides to give the baby up for adoption. A couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring (the always entertaining Jason Bateman and an appropriately starchy Jennifer Garner) answer the PennySaver ad, and even though it is mutually agreed that Juno will have no contact with the baby once it is born, the trio embark in a relationship that becomes both close and fragile. Developments in Juno and Mark's friendship unwittingly exposes tension in the Lorings' marriage. Meanwhile, as Juno carries the child, conflicts arise in her relationship with Paulie, as well as the Lorings' relationship with one another. It is all resolved in moving and somewhat surprising ways.

This film is, among other things, about growth. Many of the characters in the film are trying to decide how and if they will grow up. But the film is a coming of age for Reitman, as well. His debut feature, 2006's enjoyable Thank You for Smoking, was the caustic story of a slick Big Tobacco spokesman. The film, naturally, was glossy and pretty, shot from unusual angles in modern buildings with beautiful lighting. Juno overwhelms with its plainness. This may be a strange compliment, but everything in the movie is actually plausible, from the dialogue of teenagers and adults, as well as their plain Midwestern wardrobe. And though the protagonist is a teenager, it is not really a "teen movie", just as Catcher in the Rye was not really a "teen book". Which is precisely why teens adore it.

Juno MacGuff is, of course, an astute, sarcastic teen, but there is a tangible warmness in Page's face, and the film's snappy one-liners (there are too many to mention here) manage to be funny without being mean-spirited.

The jump from Thank You for Smoking to Juno, both thematically and visually, is as dramatic a stylistic shift as has been seen from film to film in a young American director in recent memory. In summary, Juno speaks from an original place, and is one of the few movies geared towards teens in recent years worth repeated viewings.


Jason Gilmore is a film director, screenwriter, novelist and unrepentant Detroit Pistons fan. Track him down on Facebook.

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adam kraemer
2.22.08 @ 1:10p

Starchy. Excellent word, and dead-on description.

russ carr
2.22.08 @ 10:36p

A great review for a great little movie. While Mark and Vanessa ended up injecting a little too much DRAH-MAH into things, almost anachronistically pulling us out of Juno's world as we shout at her NOT to drive out there again, because those people are dangerous and NOT YOU... the relationship between Juno and Paulie was so consumately sweet and believable that it made up for things. Not that I'd wish an unintended pregnancy on any teen couple, but at least this plays out in legitimate awkwardness (and ultimately friendship and love). The quirky girl and her best friend, whom she loves, very matter-of-factly, rather than due to weird screenwriter machinations. So yeah, kudos to Jason Reitman, but also to Diablo Cody for just writing so purely and free of adornment.

I hope Ellen Page gets the chance to smack Hollywood in the face with her Oscar.

maigen thomas
2.24.08 @ 7:15p

I had no idea that it was the same director - this makes me want to see Juno even more, I just wasn't sure it was worth an expensive trip to the theatre.

It also reminded me that I really want my Grandmom to see Thank You For Smoking.

tracey kelley
2.25.08 @ 11:17p

Spot on, Jason. Also very encouraging to see a major Hollywood award go to Diablo Cody (wish she would use her real name) for screenwriting. Similiar to Affleck and Damon for Good Will Hunting, it's a young person's story told from that narrow but broad scope of vision that some savvy young adults have. John Hughes was juggling his early 30s during his teen movie heyday.

Was Juno the most perfect film? No. But it filled a large void in cinema right now and will hopefully set the bar for studios to open up to more creativity, less, say, Transformers.

maigen thomas
3.2.08 @ 10:55p

Saw it. Loved it. Want to own it.

jesse manassa
5.31.08 @ 4:56a

Hope this movie makes $100 million which would set a precedent and make Hollywood take notice, that movie goers are starving for real storytellers, not just the predicatable, mindless sizzle and glitz fare.

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