Friday, January 25, 2008

Juno - I do try hard to be cool

OK, get this. Juno was written by a lady called Diablo Cody. How cool is that? That's got to be one of the coolest names of all time (after Max Power of course.) It's a shame she didn't channel her coolness into the film's script, which, though charming and fuzzy and consistent, doesn't exactly go for the jugular. Juno tells the story of a sixteen year old girl named Juno MacGuff, played by the breathtakingly beautiful and rather talented Ellen Page, who finds herself pregnant after enjoying spontaneous sex with her best friend. Her eventual course of action is to put the baby up for adoption and soon finds the seemingly perfect couple, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, respectively.) However, and this came as a total shock, things don't all go to plan and Juno finds herself reassessing the situation and her life in general. Now, everybody knows that this type of film (Zach Braff's Garden State also instantly springs to mind) involves a dramatic event prompting the protagonist to meander their way through the film and eventually learn a valuable life lesson, all the while accompanied by an indie-based soundtrack. That is not important. What IS important are the things occurring around the story and for the most part Juno gets it right. The majority of the characters are quirky and funny, the highlights being the eponymous heroine and Bleeker (Michael Cera), the guy responsible for getting Juno in the pudding club, so to speak. Their actions and dialogue may not elicit spasmodic fits of laughter but they are responsible for placing the smile on your face which remains from beginning to end. Plus, I found myself actually caring about Juno's plight. Director Jason Reitman does not shy away from the subject matter (good job too, because he'd have little else to work with) and avoids making the mistake of asserting that teenage pregnancy is funny. The jokes are made parallel to the pregnancy, not at the expense of it. For example, at one point Juno is visiting the prospective adopting couple, staying a while when Vanessa suggests that she should be returning home on account of her parents worrying about her, to which Juno replies: "Nah... I mean, I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?" It's sentences like that that make Juno a worthwhile film experience.

However, there were a few elements which, though inoffensive enough on their own, when combined over the 96 minute running time annoyed the hell out of me. Why do independent productions always have to have title credits that look like they were designed by somebody who failed to gain entry into art school (Hitler, for example)? And always with the Red House Painters guitar pop played over the top. It doesn't look or sound good. The music all the way through was pretty bad actually, especially the frequent name-dropping conversations between Juno and Mark to firstly show how much of a cool guy Mark is and secondly to show just how damn quirky Juno really is. Mentioning Sonic Youth and/or the late seventies punk movement will never earn you any esteem. Also, the burger phone was irksome. It isn't enough that it appears several times; it has to get a mention too, as though we haven't noticed it. "Oh, sorry I'm on my burger phone, it doesn't work very well." Yes, great. We can see you have a phone shaped like a quarter-pounder, NEXT.

Although Juno does try its hardest to feed the audience a novelty communication device, it is one of those films people should watch now and again to confirm that they are not indeed emotionally dead but are actually still able to remember what happiness, however faint, feels like. Ellen Page seems like a lady who would be cool just to hang out with, the dialogue is intelligent and snappy, a Gibson Les Paul makes a welcome appearance and, of course, the ending is the equivalent to swallowing a tablespoon of sugar while swimming in a bath of syrup. You cannot go wrong.