Juno

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Juno
Review (9.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Every year, the Toronto International Film Festival manages to unearth a few "hidden gems" - films that gain box office momentum more through critical and audience praise and endorsement than through aggressive marketing. Films like Brokeback Mountain, Almost Famous, Crash and Sideways have all screened to rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In 2007, the Festival’s hidden gem would have to be Juno, the sleeper hit by Canadian director Jason Reitman. No stranger to Toronto, Reitman’s freshman feature debut, "Thank You For Smoking", screened at the 2005 Festival and garnered numerous awards, including a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.

Juno tells the story of Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), an eccentric, wise-beyond-her-years sixteen-year-old who finds herself pregnant after her first foray into the mysterious world of human interpersonal relations with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). After perfunctorily deciding to terminate the pregnancy she realizes, upon attending at a local woman’s clinic, that the decision is not quite as uncomplicated as she thought. She decides to have the baby and to give the child to a couple, "desperately seeking spawn", and in doing so she begins a journey that is sometimes humorous, sometimes bittersweet, but always heartwarming.

Since its wide release in Canada on December 25th, 2007, I have been eagerly anticipating the day that Juno would make its way to my local theater, and began to fear that it would not. Although I saw it at the Festival, I wanted to have an opportunity to savour it again, away from the crowds and the critics. My second viewing merely confirmed that Juno is an absolute delight and is deserving of the critical praise and recognition that it is receiving. It is a perfect storm of writing, directing and acting.

Juno is the first screenplay by Diablo Cody, a former stripper and infamous internet blogger, whose website name I dare not repeat in any publication that could be read by minors. With Juno, Cody has made her mark as a masterful storyteller, giving the audience a wonderfully nuanced tale that slowly and deliberately unfolds onscreen. An unlikely feat for a teen film, Cody creates characters that are surprisingly complex, a storyline that is refreshingly unpredictable and dialogue that is witty and original. I will be shocked if Diablo Cody does not walk away with a gold statue on Oscar night.

For director Jason Reitman, Juno is a coup on several levels. While the critical success of "Thank You for Smoking" created a level of expectation for his sophmore project that may have been difficult to achieve, Reitman rose to the challenge and crafted a film that exceeded its predecessor. The critical and commercial success of Juno will no doubt allow Reitman to step out of the shadow of his famous father, Ivan Reitman (Animal House, Stripes, Ghostbusters) and to forge his own path in Hollywood.

At the end of the day, however, it is the casting of Juno that gives it the distinction of being a truly great film. Casting the lead role with a relatively unknown Canadian actress was risky, but the gamble was well-rewarded. Ellen Page is a delight and, while I fear that she is a longshot to win the Oscar for which she has been nominated, I also believe that she is well on her way to becoming Canada’s next great entertainment export. Canadian Michael Cera, who always reminds me of a child who has been caught with his hand caught in the cookie jar, is a wonderful comedic foil for Page. Jennifer Garner delivers a surprisingly poignant performance as Vanessa Loring, the potential adoptive parent for Juno’s unborn child. Cast alongside her as her husband, Mark Loring, is Jason Bateman, who is quickly becoming one of the busiest supporting actors in Hollywood. The cast is rounded with the solid supporting performances of J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s beleaguered parents.

Contrary to popular belief, Juno is not simply, "that teen pregnancy film". It is a film about falling in and out of love, about making difficult choices in the face of adversity and about striving to distinguish oneself. As the audience watches Juno being ostracized by her classmates and looked upon with disdain by school and hospital staff, it is clear that the film is not intended to glorify teen pregnancy.

Although it is rated 14A, Juno is a film that I would have difficulty recommending to anyone under the age of 16. Juno is not a teen comedy. While it has its share of humor, it is really more of a light drama. The film’s language and dialogue, while peppered with euphemisms directed to a teen audience is, at the end of the day, decidedly more mature and adult than one would expect to see in a teen comedy. I also found that the film was just as much about the reactions and the relationships between the adults around Juno as it was about Juno herself.

It is very rare that I will make two trips to the theater to see any film, but Juno was, for me, an exception. Unfortunately, much like Sideways in 2005, in the face of some stiff competition, is unlikely to take the Oscars by storm. But Oscars or not, like Sideways, it is also a film that is refreshingly original and multi-faceted and, for cinephiles, it is a worthy addition to their "must-see" list.
 


Trailer

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