Wednesday, October 31, 2007

London Film Fest Day 15 - JUNO rocks my world

JUNO is another of those films that you feel wouldn’t have happened before Wes Anderson and Sundance took off and Napoleon Dynamite became a sleeper hit. You know what I mean. The faux-naif acoustic soundtrack featuring Kinks songs and Lou Reed. The quirky characters that say ever-so-slightly unrealistic things about life and love. The over-designed sets, crammed with bad-taste props and trashy clothes. The use of carefully designed credits with a hand-made feel – this time half-animated. The insistent campy visual motifs – in this case Michael Cera’s track-suit and the joggers who run across screen every now and then. I mean, Sweet Tap-Dancing Little Miss Sunshine, it even features a beat-up camper van.

For all that, JUNO remains a very smart, very witty and thoroughly engaging film. That’s largely down to a whip-smart script by new-comer, Diablo Cody, the good comic timing of director Jason Reitman (THANK YOU FOR SMOKING) and flawless dead-pan performances from Ellen Page (HARD CANDY), J K Simmons and Allison Janney. In addition, Michael Cera gives a stealth performance that is so quiet it’s easy to overlook how good he is.

Page plays an intelligent but, yes, fundamentally dumb, 16 year old girl called Juno, who gets knocked up by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Cera). At first, she thinks she’ll just get a quick abortion but almost on impulse decides to give the baby up for adoption. Her parents (Simmons and Janney) are flummoxed but supportive, and while Juno gets odd looks at school she has enough moxy to front it out. The putative adoptive parents are played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Bateman is suitably slippery as the cool older guy. There’s a lot of sexual tension between him and the much younger Page – and I suppose it doesn’t hurt that viewers will partially read Page’s precocious, flirtatious character from HARD CANDY onto her portrayal of Juno. Garner is also fantastic as a slightly snobbish but fundamentally decent yuppie who’s desperate for a kid. She makes what could have been a rather clichĂ©’d annoying character sympathetic. There’s also a hysterical opening cameo from Rainn Wilson as a clerk.

Performances and big belly-laughs aside, the great thing about JUNO is that it’s a proper story with characters that develop and change and events that take us by surprise but also seem plausible and credible. Moreover, instead of letting this become some day-time TV serial cliffhanger about whether the adoption will go ahead, Reitman/Cody rejig the focus to the love story between Cera and Juno. All this adds up to a movie that’s funnier than the already decent THANK YOU FOR SMOKING but which has more narrative drive and a more satisfying emotional pay-off. Instead of drifting in the third act, JUNO actually gets better. And while JUNO doesn’t quite pip SON OF RAMBOW at the post for best comedy at London 2007, it gives it a damn good run for its money.

JUNO played Toronto and London 2007 and goes on release in the US on December 5th. It opens in Australia and Sweden in January 2008, in Finland, Italy, Spain, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands in February and in Germany in March.

1 comment:

  1. It may be a tad late for me to reply to this post, but Juno is overrated pap. It's not at ALL plausible. Parents who act like that are so unbelievable it's not funny and Ellen Paige talks like a character out of Dawson's Creek. It's so unrealistic it hurts. It's an enjoyable movie, but Diablo Cody is a hack in her writing and the overall film lacks. The true hero of the movie is Michael Cera who is the only believable character. And he has always been great from Arrested Development on.