Many believe that bigger is better. In Hollywood films can have budgets that exceed those of many small countries ranging up to $200 million dollars. The studio executives then sit around and worry, hoping their film will be able to earn that expenditure back and make a profit. Independent films are made on much smaller budgets but rarely take hold with the public. One exception that broke all the rules was the little Indy that could, ‘Juno’. Made for about $6.5 million it was able to turn a profit while still in limited release. The reason is simple; it was one of he best films released in 2007. it even garnered several Academy Award nominations and was the only one five nominees that broke $125 million mark pushing it to about $172 million by the time the Oscars were announced. While it didn’t get the top film or acting awards this it certainly deserved them. It did win a lone list of notable awards including the Independent Spirit Award and the Critic’s Choice Award. One thing makes all of this success much unexpected, the theme. ‘Juno’ is about a sixteen year old girl getting pregnant. The film handles a controversial topic in the most uncontroversial fashion. It doesn’t preach at the audience or take sides it just presents the story of one girl who is forced to grow up faster than she expected. The only insight found in this book is we get to know one young girl. There is no debate on pro-life versus pro-choice or any political motivation. What you get is a heart warming, sweet story and that is more than enough and perfectly satisfying.
It should come as no surprise that the people on both sides of the camera here represent a group of people who will help define the film industry in the coming years. ‘Juno’ was directed by a relative new comer, Jason Reitman. He does have a few credits to his name so far such as the very funny dark comedy ‘Thank you for Smoking’ which was his only other feature length project. Direction is certainly in his blood as the son of Ivan Reitman who has been making hit comedies for years. Jason has a natural, unassuming style in his films, especially this one. He lets the humanity of his actors come out without the need for fancy camera tricks or special effects. He made this film into an endearing classic that audiences and critics alike have fallen in love with. His eye for detail is incredible and adds realism to the film. This is not the gritty realism so many directors aim for but instead the tiny slices of life that help the audience identify with the surroundings and the characters.
The story was written by a complete novice to script writing. The nom de plume of this amazing authoress is Diablo Cody and if this screenplay is how she starts out in the business I can’t wait for her next story. A former stripper she has mentioned that getting into script writing was a fluke for her. Any professional writer would sever a limb for such happenstance. Cody is the type of writer who puts her heart of her sleeve without getting melodramatic about it. This story is smartly written filled with very dry and effective humor. While there are no slap your knee jokes present the script will bring a smile to your face. Juno is not a girl who acts smart, she is smart. This young girl is written as quick witted beyond the abilities of her peers in school or even most of the adults for that matter. Cody also refuses to employ the typical Hollywood stereotypes in her story. The parents are actually supportive of their daughter. They would rather the big news be a school suspension than a pregnancy but they accept Juno for what has happened. Her boyfriend didn’t take the usual and dreadful course of wondering if the baby was his. He accepted Juno as telling the truth. Cody walked home with the one Oscar out of the film’s four nominations; not a bad way to start out at all.
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a bright and sassy sixteen year old girl. She discovers that she is pregnant by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). He is not her boyfriend and they only had sex once. That was more out of boredom that any form of lust. Juno decides to check out a near by clinic for an abortion but the place just didn’t feel right to her and she walks away. There is no debate as to the moral dilemma or political issues involved just a girl that felt weird being there. She tells her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and step mother (Allison Janney) and they are calmest parents ever shown in a situation such as this. The decision is made that Juno will carry the baby to term and give it up for adoption. With the help of her female best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) Juno searches through the ads in the local coupon and sales flyer. She finds a couple that seem okay and her father accompanies her to meet them. The couple, Mark Lorning (Jason Bateman) and his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) seems to be an average young successful pair. Finally the deal is made for them to adopt when the time comes. Juno finds herself becoming friends with Mark. They share the same tastes in music and horror films and can debate the finer points of each for hours. Mark currently works as a composer for jingles and commercials but always wanted to be a rock star. As time goes on he becomes closer to Juno and ultimately tells her he is separating from Vanessa and hits on her. Once again the life that was planed out for Juno is disrupted and she has to find her footing.
The cast here is incredible but this film is the vehicle for the young leading lady, Ellen Page. She has such a natural, laid back manner that you can’t help but to sympathize with her character. She is also still able to play teen roles even though she just turned twenty one recently. There is no hint of being a diva surrounding this young woman; she is a pure delight and pure talent. Like many who are into Indy films I first became a fan when I watched her in ‘Hard Candy’. There she played a fourteen year old girl seeking revenge against a pedophile. This shows the amazing range Page possesses that she can transition from such a serious, dark film to something as smart and humorous as this one. For those Sci-Fi fans out there she also played Kitty Pride, the girl who can walk through walls in the third X-Men flick. The only possible reason Page didn’t get the Best Actress this year was not only the competition was something else but perhaps the voters felt that this is only the start of a fantastic career and she will be in that nomination list many times in the future. There are a lot of great onliners in this film but Page gets the best of them and does the most in their delivery. She has a natural sense of comic timing combined with depth in dramatic moments’ a rare and wonderful combination.
Michael Cera plays the most atypical teen dad to date. He is not the cool kid in school who turns his back on the girl he got pregnant. Cera plays Paulie with a clumsy innocence that comes across as completely sincere. J.K. Simmons is one of the best character actors on the scene today. Whether he is a Nazi in prison raping new inmates, a psychiatrist for the Special Victims unit or the Spide-Man hating publisher Simmons is always a pleasure to watch. Here he presents Mac as a dad not happy about his daughter’s situation but never questioning his love for her. Jennifer Garner may be best known for action roles and quirky comedies but this film gives her a chance that she can handle a tender, simple script with charm. She could easily held out for a big salary part but shows here that she is dedicated to her craft and lets that guide her choices. There was a time when both Jason Bateman and his sister Justine were the teen idols of the sit-com world. Now he has matured to a role like this where he gets a part he can sink his teeth into. In all this is a cast befitting the excellent labors of the director and writer.
A film as wonderful and creative as this deserves nothing but the best possible DVD release. Thankfully 20th Century Fox has not only stepped up to the plate they hit a grand slam homer. There are three ways to purchase this film on disc. You can choose the widescreen edition, the Blu-ray version or the special widescreen. Thankfully Fox has forgone the usual pan and scan release that no serious film lover would go for. All have a great Dolby 5.1 audio and anamorphic 1.85:1 video transfer. The extras are fantastic.
There is no through process necessary here. If you love the art of cinema make a place in your collection for this one.