Worth the Wait, ‘Juno’ Deserves All the Buzz

August 22, 2008

Many moviegoers in Costa Rica already know a little too much about Juno, the world’s most famous wisecracking, pregnant teenager.

Small films that create lots of buzz in the United States generally take a while to reach screens here (in this case, appropriately, just shy of nine months). By the time I’d watched first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody grab her Academy Award – the film also received nominations for Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture – and heard about the film from countless sources, I was a little buzzed out.

The opening scenes didn’t help. Much has been made of Juno’s unusual and ageinappropriate speaking style, and indeed, your reaction to the movie will hinge on whether you buy into it. As she confronts the fact that she’s become pregnant after testing out sex for the first time with her best friend, gentle geek Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she sounds like an impossibly witty university professor on speed. Her clever repartee when calling an abortion clinic early in the film seems callous and unreal. Even worse, she brought to my mind horrifying memories of the pretentious blather of TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” (sorry, Pacey). It made me wonder why writers have such trouble letting teenagers talk like teenagers. But “Juno” quickly proves that it’s different.

In the hands of a gifted writer and actress, Juno endears herself to us, and ultimately surprises us. I often wished that actress Ellen Page, who seems to draw each line from a bubbling inner vat of sarcasm, would reveal the vulnerability and fear that a teenager carrying a child must feel. However, because of this, the moments when she finally does lift the mask are particularly effective.

The rest of the cast is outstanding. Juno’s friends are reminiscent of people you knew in high school, but leave teencomedy stereotypes in the dust. Even better are Juno’s dad (J.K. Simmons) and stepmom, played brilliantly by Allison Janney.

As the face of suburban perfection, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, whose characters seek to adopt Juno’s baby, seem comparatively flat at first, but twists in the script make them much more interesting.

The final supporting character is the quirky soundtrack, which takes center stage in the memorable final scene.

Some complain that the film makes teenage pregnancy look attractive. Of course, anyone who thinks it takes an independent film for teenagers to start reproducing should probably take a look at the nightly news; however, in the context of the usual treatment Hollywood gives this issue, I suppose they’re right.

But that’s what’s best about “Juno,” and the main reason it deserves all the buzz. For all its big words, this film doesn’t preach.

It doesn’t seek to scare or console us, or champion one choice over another. It may be billed as a movie about teenage pregnancy, but, like most good films, or good stories in any medium, it’s not really about an issue at all – it’s about Juno herself. She may speak beyond her years, but this is one on-screen teenager you will long remember.

 

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