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Movie Review: Juno

By Matthew Huntley

January 8, 2007

What do you mean, you liked Arrested Development better than Alias?

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The acting is the movie's best quality. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are splendid as Juno's father and stepmother, who are thankfully allowed to act and react to their daughter's situation in ways that are more truthful and believable than we expect. So often when young girls get pregnant in the movies, the parents are ready to yell, go crazy and lay blame, but here it was refreshing to see the parents support their daughter, love her, and want to help her with her decision. That's more along the lines of how I'd expect real parents to behave.

As the young and wealthy couple, Garner and Bateman play two characters who don't really want to be married, and credit should be given to production designer Steve Saklad and cinematographer Eric Steelberg for placing these sad individuals in white, pale surroundings. The imagery shows them as cold and distant to each other, and they're both perhaps under the impression a baby will solve their problems. I actually wish the movie had given us more of Vanessa and Mark because they're so fascinating. I wanted more of their history and dialogue.

The problem I had with Juno was its desperate need to be quirky and original. Diablo Cody's screenplay seems too self-congratulatory in regards to it being hip, anarchistic and nonconformist. It, along with Jason Reitman's direction, feels the need to constantly remind us of its attitude. I had the same problem with Reitman's Thank You For Smoking, a satire on smoking that prided itself too heavily on being more biting and acerbic than it really was.

Cody's screenplay so openly calls attention to the characters' idiosyncrasies that I felt like she didn't think the audience was smart enough to get it on their own. For instance, Juno has a telephone in the shape of a hamburger, which is not something you see everyday and thus becomes an object of Juno's personality. But then the movie has Juno talk out loud about the telephone, reminding us not to forget it's a hamburger she's holding.




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The movie does the same for a lot of other things, including an obsession Allison Janney's character has with dogs; or Bleeker's bright yellow (and too short) running shorts; and Bleeker's love for orange Tic Tacs. I think such qualities are funny and neat, and they give the characters individualized traits, but the screenplay violates the unofficial rule that if the camera can show us something, dialogue does not also need to tell us about it. The shorts, Tic Tacs and hamburger phone are obviously made to call attention to themselves, but having the characters talk about them goes too far. The screenplay should have been more subtle and mindful of the audience's intelligence to get it.

Another problem was some of the dialogue, especially from Page, who speaks in a way that patronizes the audience. She says things like "hells yeah," "it's like, totally...," "tune-idge," and "Thundercats are go!" There's also narration like, "She looks like a hobbit - you know, the fat one from 'The Goonies.'" That's all fine except it's spoken to make us automatically think Juno is so cool and savvy. The movie tries too hard to make us like and side with its anti-hero.

When it's not trying so hard to show off, Juno works as an unconventional coming-of-age story. There are enough genuinely warm and funny scenes within it, especially those involving Garner and Bateman, that prevent its head from getting too big. The movie was obviously made by smart people and it's got a modern and outré feel about it, but too often it reminds us of just how smart, modern and outré it is. The filmmakers should remember to give us more credit.


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