Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Juno (Fox Searchlight, 2007)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles specifically requested a comedy last night, and since I wanted to work down our backlog of recent movies instead of showing an oldie, I ran Juno, last year’s quirky sex comedy (sort of) in which the eponymous 16-year-old heroine, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), gets one of those infallible pregnancies on a single encounter that happen as often in moviedom as they do rarely in real life while cavorting on her dad’s old armchair with her boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Juno herself lives with her dad, Mac (J. K. Simmons), and her stepmom Bren (Alison Janney, who had plenty of experience with sex and its consequences in her previous role as Mrs. Kinsey!), and her first instinct is to get an abortion — only a bored clerk at Women Now! (identified in the cast list only as “punk receptionist” and played in a marvelous bit by Emily Perkins) flashes her pierced lip at Our Heroine and, in a supremely bored voice, pushes some boysenberry-flavored condoms on her and regales her with tales of all the fun things she and her boyfriend do with them.

For the first 20 minutes or so I was worried Juno, scripted by Diablo Cody (a former stripper) and directed by Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman’s son and (like his dad) a decent but not great comedy director, was going to be all quirk — though the setting was nominally Minnesota and the whole thing was shot in Canada, all the teenage characters were coming off like Valley Girls and Boys to me! Nonetheless, as the film went on it started working its magic on me and emerged as good as everyone said it was, driven by its quirks without being totally taken over by them. It’s more a film of scenes than a whole: Juno has a heavy-duty fish-out-of-water experience answering the ad a young, successful but childless couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) have placed in the Pennysaver looking for an as-yet-unborn baby they can adopt; Juno’s stepmom accompanies her to a visit to the ultrasound technician and starts mouthing off and ultimately gets thrown out; Juno unwittingly precipitates the breakup of Mark’s and Vanessa’s marriage (he’s a frustrated rock star who gave it all up to compose commercial jingles, made a ton of money but hated it; and he and Juno, an aspiring musician herself, start jamming one afternoon — he’s into 1980’s dance music and she’s into 1970’s punk, though their tastes meet on, of all songs, the David Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople) but gives Vanessa the baby at the end anyway; and Juno and Paulie reconnect and resume their relationship at the end — “I know love is supposed to come before reproduction,” Juno tells us in the dryly witty narration that’s a key highlight of the film, ably capturing the voice of today’s version of suburban teen alienation.

There’s also the phone in Juno’s room, a novelty item shaped like a cheeseburger (which was the actual property of screenwriter Diablo Cody, loaned by her to the film) which she has to shake in order to get it to work. Juno isn’t a great movie, and as a recent comedy it amused me but hardly made me laugh as hard as Kabluey did, but it’s a lot of fun — and I could relate to the heroine (apparently Ellen Page did her own makeup and hair for the role and ended up looking like a younger version of Christine Maggiore) telling us she fell for Paulie because he was on the school track team and she thought it was hot watching them practice wearing yellow running shorts and nothing on underneath and seeing their dicks flap around under the thin material. That’s a turn-on for me, too!