Judge Brett Cullum gets on his hamburger phone to tell you he's not Morgan Freeman collecting bones, and he's freaking out! Honest to blog, he thinks he has a food baby.
Vanessa Loring: Your parents are probably wondering where you are.
Out of all the nominees for the Best Picture Academy Award of 2007, Juno is the quirkiest and most likable. Good writing, endearing characters, solid direction, and a simple plot combine for what is a Cinderella story in terms of box office and critical acclaim. I almost wish it hadn't been hyped to hell by Academy Awards and "top ten" lists, because Juno is best experienced as a quiet, smart comedy that takes you by surprise. But after nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking), Best Actress for Ellen Page (Hard Candy), and an actual Oscar handed out to honor the first-time screenplay by Diablo Cody, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't heard of the film.
Facts of the Case
Ellen Page is Juno MacGuff, a sassy 16-year-old who finds herself in a pickle. She's pregnant as a result of a bored afternoon with her quiet best friend (Michael Cera of Arrested Development and Superbad), and she has to decide what to do. Juno knows as a high school girl, she is ill-equipped to raise a child herself, but she can't seem to stomach the idea of an abortion. She does the brave thing, and decides to give it up for adoption to a couple that can't have a child on their own. She chooses Vanessa (Jennifer Garner, Elektra) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development) from the back of the Penny Saver personal ads. It's going to be nine long months for Juno.
There are three primary reasons the film works so well and received so much praise. The cast is impeccable, and there is not a single moment wasted by them. Ellen Page does most of the heavy lifting, and hers is one of the most textured and wonderfully delivered performances I've seen. Her Oscar nomination was well deserved for a pitch perfect combination of comedy and realism. She knows exactly how to show us Juno's reflexively smart, sarcastic side coupled with the inner turmoil of emotion raging constantly under the surface. Her work is large and subtle simultaneously, and she's definitely an actress to watch. Michael Cera does what he does best, and his quiet, reserved Paulie Bleeker is the perfect counterpoint to the self-assured Juno. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner do fine work as well, with Garner proving her worth as an actress while Bateman reaffirms his comedic timing. Allison Janney (The West Wing) and J.K. Simmons (Spiderman) are Juno's understanding stepmother and father. They are dry and well-rounded, providing great support both fictionally and as actors with the teen leads. Rarely have parents been painted this wise and funny in a teen comedy. The script has been celebrated and author Diablo Cody made into an overnight sensation as well as an Academy Award winner. The dialogue is amazingly well-observed, and the written elements elevate the film. What Cody provides are believable teenagers and caring adults who all ring true and smart throughout every turn. The direction and design of the comedy is the final element that seals the deal for Juno. Jason Reitman proves he's more than simply the offspring of a famous comedic talent, and adds to his growing reputation after Thank You for Smoking. Actors, writer, and director are all at the top of their games.
The DVD presentation of Juno includes a standard transfer combined with plenty of extras. The widescreen anamorphic transfer is clean enough, but it's hard to judge the final product since we were sent a DVR screener for Juno and not the actual disc you'll find on the shelves. There is a purposefully heightened level of contrast and saturation throughout the film, and that is in part to reflect the inner life of the lead character. The surround sound mix is front heavy without much use of the full stage. Dialogue is clear, but nothing really engulfs the room. Fox has released both a single disc edition of the film as well as a two-disc collector's edition that includes a digital copy for iPods and other portable video devices. The best extra found on both versions is the commentary from Reitman and Cody. They are good natured and speak to how the production handled filming a story that encompasses a year in one month's shooting. It's a fun, engaging track with two smart personalities who know their stuff. Also included in both versions are 11 deleted scenes with commentary, a gag reel, a bumbled take in the convenience store, and the cast and crew jamming out to an OK Go tune. There are over 20 minutes of screen tests that were done almost a year before the production to offer a peek at the film's development. The two-disc edition includes four topical featurettes covering the lead teens, a look at Diablo Cody and her story, a piece about the director, and a feature on the film called "Honest to Blog," which is clip heavy and repetitive but does go more in to the concept of the film. The feature Fox is using to sell the two-disc version is the digital version of the film, which will save you an iTunes download or converting the DVD file on your own to put it on a video device. It is 1.1 GB, and is simply a compressed version without any bells or whistles. Juno is also being offered in a Blu-ray edition that has all of the above-mentioned extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Juno is a small comedy with an independent feel, and the hype has been out of control if you haven't seen it. I imagine those that have waited for DVD may wonder why all the hubbub. It's hard to keep expectations in check when so much has been made of how great this project is, and even though the acclamations are deserved, at heart this is a nice, intimate story that is light in tone. Juno stands out in a year when unexpected pregnancy seems all the rage, with other comedies such as Knocked Up and Waitress mining the same predicament for thoughtful laughter. It does a great job with the material, but it doesn't aim any higher than where it can go with a simple, straightforward narrative.
Some have railed against the use of all that slang by our heroine. Juno speaks like nobody on the planet, with tons of catch phrases, and it can be off-putting at first. I didn't find it disturbing, but some claim it pulls them out of the story at first as they wonder what she's doing flinging all those crazy terms in to a hamburger phone. Is it calculated and self-conscious? You bet'cha! But aren't some teenagers calculated and self-conscious as well? I didn't think it rang false, but some criticize that Juno's a bit too smart and ready with her witty comebacks.
Juno works because it is a great cast working with a solid script, and it does things naturally and with a keen sense of love for the characters. The movie glides easily between moments of quick-witted comedy and poignant drama without ever missing a beat. It's an example of how effortless comedy can look, but how difficult it is to ever get it all right. I never thought a comedy about a pregnant teen would make me smile from start to finish, but somehow Juno manages this. The Fox DVD looks good enough, and the extras are as charming as the film they explain. Shake off all the hype around the film, and you have a quiet, well-paced comedy that is quirky good fun.
Guilty of being the best comedy of 2007.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Jason Reitman and Writer Diablo Cody
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