Juno

Juno-Poster2007 Best Picture Nominee

From the very beginning of Jason Reitman’s film Juno, the director lets you know something of the tone of the film. It opens with Ellen Page as the title character walking down the street of her suburb, chugging a gallon of Sunny Delight, in a title sequence that’s made to look like something out of a scrapbook. A bit of indie folk rock, and the mood is set: this is a lightly comic film about a quirky character. Juno is a high school student who is, if not exactly an outcast, not exactly the height of popularity either… but who doesn’t appear to be bothered by this. She has larger things on her mind, like the imminent development of a small person in her abdomen.

Juno-0640

In reality, not entirely an unheard-of high school concern.

While initially in a bit of denial, Juno doesn’t panic about her situation, except when it comes to telling her father and step-mother. J. K. Simmons plays the father, and gives a good impression of a patient, loving father who is just a bit out of sorts over having to deal with the issue. Page’s Juno is a sometimes-mouthy but capable young woman whose maturity zig-zags like an actual teenager. Wanting neither to raise the child nor to have an abortion, she decides to give the child up for adoption, finding a childless couple in a local paper and agreeing to give them the child in exchange for them covering her medical expenses. Meanwhile, she has to resolve her feelings towards the father of the child, her not-quite-boyfriend, played by Michael Cera.

Although the film has a distinct narrative start and end point with the pregnancy, it feels like a “slice of life” film in a lot of ways. The pregnancy isn’t the entirety of the story, so much as it’s the impetus for throwing these characters together. The “perfect couple”, played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, provide as much of the emotional tone of the film as Juno herself does — and certainly a lot more than Cera’s ultra-passive boyfriend character. The anxiety of a couple looking to adopt is looked at, even if not as much as the issues Juno faces as the pregnant teen, and their personalities provide most of the actual drama of the film. Ellen Page as Juno provides the comic elements; Juno walks around with such a constant chip on her shoulder about so many things that one could almost suspect she got pregnant simply to spite society’s expectations. Yet there’s little of meanness to the character; it’s simply a reminder that even though she may sometimes be mature for a teenager, she’s still a teenager and essentially just a kid.

That said, I had some trouble getting into the film. It’s not that there’s anything greatly wrong with it (save one aspect, which I’ll get to in a bit); it’s just that there isn’t anything all that special about it either. It’s sort of funny, sort of touching, sort of charming, and sort of interesting… but it’s always and only “sort of” these things. Any substantive form of praise I could give it comes with a qualifier. There was never a point where I cared deeply about the characters, or laughed loudly, or felt as though this story was substantially more interesting than any other ordinary life.

This may have been hampered a bit by the distraction factor of the music. Juno mentions her favorite bands at one point, discussing musical tastes with the prospective adoptive father. She lists bands such as the Stooges and the Runaways; hard early punk rock groups. It fits the off-beat personality of the character that she listens to music that was counter-culture decades before she was born. It’s hard to say whether that music would have fit the film itself, but whether it would or not, it’s not what was playing in the film. There are a few songs from acts such as the Velvet Underground and the Kinks — again, groups at the paradoxical nexus of mainstream and counter-culture — but most of the soundtrack is strictly amateur hour. It’s indie folk rock of the sort that serves as a reminder of why so many acts remain indie — because the appeal is too limited for anything more. These songs would be inadequate for the corner of a coffee shop; the highest praise I can offer is that they are, at least, on key. But the guitar work shows no particular skill, the singing is thin and reedy, and the lyrics are inane patter. It would be difficult to come up with a more irritating soundtrack had the filmmakers tried.

My irritation at the music, which was frequent enough to be hard to ignore, may have contributed significantly to my inability to appreciate the film as anything more than simply a mildly amusing diversion. On the other hand, had the film been more than that, it ought to have been able to overcome its soundtrack.

Rating: 3 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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11 Responses to Juno

  1. jjames36 says:

    I haven’t seen. But recently I have seen a few different tepid reviews on WordPress. My excitement to see it is lessening, just a little.

    • It’s one of those where I think it probably seemed more fresh and innovative at its time of release — which is true of pretty much all films, of course, but when the freshness fades after such a short time period, it makes me think it wasn’t really all that unusual to begin with.

  2. Dan Heaton says:

    It’s interesting that you mention the soundtrack, which I think is one of the strengths of Juno and fits perfectly with the tone. I’m not saying they’re my favorite bands, but it brought a certain feeling to the story that seemed just right.

  3. drakulus23 says:

    i didn’t really like this movie. I’m not a big Ellen Page fan to be honest. Great review!

    • I haven’t seen Page in too many other things yet. She was all right in Inception, but it was a supporting role; it was DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt who shouldered the bulk of that film.

      • drakulus23 says:

        True. Ellen Page starred in a game called Beyond Two Souls but it was forgettable. At least for me it was anyway. William Defoe was also in the game. I know she X men and she’s going to be in the next X men movie but I’m not planning on watching that movie since I know it’s going to be another Wolverine down your throat one.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Morgan. Watched this again recently and couldn’t help but just love it for what it was, and be able to just roll with the movie’s quirky-script and ways.

  5. Spikor says:

    I remember a couple of chuckles, but for the most part everything about this movie seemed forced. It was like they were constantly showing throwing references and things at me while screaming “Hamburger phone! Pre-90s band names! Irrelevant Indie Folk Pop! LOOK HOW UNIQUE AND INDEPENDENT I AM!”

    And I can’t stand when I feel like a movie is yelling at me about anything other than explosions.

    • Yes, the character’s uniqueness did seem rather artificial. The music, again, was a big highlight of that — why name all those early punk/garage bands if the only use of them is going to be 20 seconds of Mott the Hoople?

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