Thursday, 17 April 2008
Juno was the surprise hit at the Oscars this year and I have finally managed to watch it. The film received an astonishing four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Direction and Best Leading Actress. The notoriety it has received is incredible considering the low budget and relatively unknown cast that had created it.
Ellen Page plays the witty character of Juno, living in a mundane American household and studying at a stereotypical American high school. It’s her humourous individualism that drives this film forward, as her pregnancy at the tender age of 16 is chronicled by writer Diablo Cody, and narrated by Page.
Juno appears to be a headstrong individual who has enough confidence to face up to her situation with relatively little help. She finds a way to adopt her child and even seeks out an appropriate couple to parent it, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. She effectively resolves the practicalities of her predicament within the opening 30 minutes of the film, with little input from the child’s father, Paulie Bleeker, or her parents.
It seems that Juno’s biggest struggle is opening up to the people around her that she has feelings for, most notably the child’s father. Michael Cera, the star of teen comedy Superbad, revises his role as a high-school nerd to play Paulie Bleeker. A combination of Juno’s inability to expose her emotions and Paulie’s social awkwardness makes taking their friendship further than a one-night-stand difficult.
Juno looks for solace in an unlikely friendship between her and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman), the man who is set to adopt her unborn child. They share a love for trashy horror films and grunge music, which is perhaps more of a throwback to writer Diablo Cody’s childhood than a contempory observation. Nonetheless Mark and Juno forge a compelling companionship which is another new experience for 16-year-old Juno.
Discovering how to form a working, sexual relationship with Paulie and how to handle love become Juno’s main concern. This is accompanied by her failure to recognise ‘boundaries’ in befriending a married, older man as well as learning to live with her step-mother, Bren (Allison Janney). The pregnancy that started the sequence of events becomes less significant as the movie develops, which is a credit to the storytelling.
The film encapsulates some of the problems faced by a 16-year-old. Juno matures into a more rounded version of herself, with her pregnancy almost acting as a decoy, luring the audience into a vulnerable state and targeting the sub-conscious.
In many ways it’s a shame that the character of Juno, who has undoubtedly captured the hearts and minds of many teenagers with the humour and sharpness of her witty retorts, is so very artificial. The film succeeds in documenting her maturing process and allows the cast to deliver hilarious one-liners which are sure to repeated by an adoring following.
However, it’s difficult to imagine a professional comedian delivering the kind of observations Juno has with such comic timing. This is made even more unbelievable when you consider she is 16, in the midst of a pubescent nightmare scenario. Her character has the feel of a teenager manufactured by the writer to be an exaggerated collection of perfected witty rhetoric and humour.
Ellen Page is only guilty of producing an interpretation of the character that is too accurate. She clearly has ‘funny bones’ and can effectively create the illusion of teen angst simultaneously. Sadly, her performance becomes irritating when it should be both funny and touching, making Juno MacGuffin both brilliant and flawed.