Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Movie Review: Juno

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Wonderful life affirming movie with great acting
Cons: Parts of the first third
The Bottom Line:
I was charmed by this
Unexpected comedy
Filled with lots of heart

"Like the City in Alaska?"  "No."

I wrote off Juno at first. Independent comedy about a teen pregnancy? Not something I thought I would enjoy. But the more I heard about it, the more I thought I would take a chance. And I'm glad I did.

Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) has just discovered she is two months pregnant. The father is her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Her first thought, naturally, is to have an abortion. But when she can't go through with that, she decides to find a nice couple to adopt it.

Of course, finding Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) was just the beginning. She also has to tell her dad and step-mother (J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney). And she has to carry the baby to term while attending classes at high school. How will she handle the next few months?

Let's get my complaint out of the way first. The first third of the movie or so is filled with crude language and lots of talk about sex. Yes, I fully expected it since this is a PG-13 movie about a pregnant teen. But it still really bothered me and made me wonder what I had gotten myself into. So take the rating serious and make sure you want your kids seeing what's here before you let them watch it.

Fortunately, once the movie gets going those things are kept to a minimum. The story is only slightly realistic, but I got so caught up in it I really didn't care. Even though I thought I knew where things were going before I went to see it, it kept me entertained throughout. And they even managed to through in some twists I hadn't seen coming.

The characters are what make this movie work. Right from the moment they step on screen, you fall in love with them. Juno catches our attention with her sarcasm and hidden warmth. Bleeker is such a geek you've got to love him. Juno's parents do seem a bit distance, but you can tell they care. Mark Loring seems cool from the moment we meet him, but his wife Vanessa is trying so hard it comes across as awkward. Fortunately, she softens as the movie progresses.

Since this is such a character driven movie, the acting needs to be great. And it is. Ellen Page has been nominated for an Oscar for her role, and it is a well deserved honor. The part calls for quite a bit of range, and this up and coming star has it in spades. To me, the other standout was Jennifer Garner. With just a look, you can see her character's longing to be a mother. There is a scene between the two of them in the mall that is absolutely wonderful. The rest of the cast hits all their note perfectly as well, making the entire movie pitch perfect.

This movie is billed as a comedy, and yes, there were times I laughed out loud. There are some great moments that sneak up on you. Still, I found myself smiling more then laughing. Some members of the audience when I saw it laughed harder then I did, so it's probably just a matter of taste.

Some critics have argued this movie glorifies teen pregnancy. Frankly, that is a risk any movie runs when it tries to deal with a sensitive subject like this. While it doesn't dwell on the negatives of the situation (hence my comment about the story not being realistic), it doesn't make things rosier then they are either. In the end, it is a life affirming movie that is about people taking the twists and turns of life and dealing with them the best way they know how.

And for that reason, I liked Juno. Yes, the first third had me cringing more then I expected to. But it was a film well worth seeing.

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