Juno

    One of the great tricks of storytelling is to subvert the audience’s expectations. Take the recent Sweeney Todd for example. Not every story about a serial killer has to be like Silence of the Lambs. Why not make it into a musical?

    Similarly, the subject of teenage pregnancy would seem to lend itself to drama. There would be a lot of heavy scenes with shouting and tears. Maybe we could sell it to Lifetime?

    But screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman, fortunately had a better idea. They decided to take this potential tearjerker and turn it into a smart comedy. Thank goodness they did. I hate Lifetime movies.
   
    Juno, played by Ellen Page, is a high school student, whip smart and articulate. She makes a dumb mistake, however, when she seduces her best friend Paulie Bleeker, Bleek for short, and played by Micheal Cera. She gets pregnant. Her father and step mother, played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, are disappointed in her but supportive.

    Juno opts to put the child up for adoption and chooses a young suburban couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman to receive the child. But as she gets to know them she begins to have second thoughts. Also, the child’s father displays hidden depths.

    The first thing that struck me about Juno is that the dialog is almost too good. I don’t spend much time around teenagers, but I don’t think they’re usually this articulate. Of course Juno is not supposed to be a typical teen, and this is not your typical teen comedy. The filmmakers delight in the language. And every once in awhile you need something like that. Juno is as if Oscar Wilde had written the American Pie movies.

    The performances are terrific, starting with Ellen Page as Juno. She captures not only the wisecracking side of the character but also the vulnerable kid beneath that exterior. When she breaks down finally, it’s devastating. Even the scene in the beginning where she tells Bleek about her condition and sits there waiting for a reaction-she’s not even sure what she wants him to do-is real, moreso than in most A list dramas with budgets many times larger than this.

    Michael Cera plays Bleek as a typical geek. He’s not sure how to ask for what he wants and his hesitancy is both endearing and frustrating. J.K.Simmons and Allison Janney flesh out Juno’s parents by playing against type. Her father is not just a gruff working man, who’s disappointed in his daughter’s mistake. He also supports her both physically and emotionally. And the stepmother is not only a self obsessed woman who has a prickly relationship with Juno. There are moments when she stands up for the kid like a tiger protecting her kits. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman continue the theme of subverting expectations.
   
    Juno is one of the few movies I’ve seen lately where I’ve laughed out loud. It’s definitely the best comedy of the year and maybe the best film.

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