The View From Here

First Look -- Juno

Michael Bonner

Just as I started writing this blog, an email pinged into my inbox to let me know that Juno has now taken $60 million at the US box office and kept the Nic Cage blockbuster National Treasure 2 off the top spot.

Juno is, as they say, becoming something of a phenomenon, a low budget underdog that's being widely talked about as a serious Oscar contender – assuming, of course, the current writer's strike that's crippling Hollywood is resolved in time and the Awards do in fact happen next month.

Juno is about a sparky suburban 16 year-old (Ellen Page) who gets pregnant and decides to adopt her unborn child out to a picture-perfect couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). It’s a coming of age comedy, full of zingy one-liners and a cool soundtrack from Mouldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson. The film’s spiritual ancestry begins with Ghost World, after which, it seems, all girls in hip-smart teen comedies have to be sardonic, wise beyond their years, grunge/indie types, and certainly Juno McGuff fits into this demographic perfectly. She dispenses flippancies while glugging down litre bottles of Sunny Delight, planting three-piece suites on lawns around her neighbourhood, posing with a granddad-style pipe hanging nonchalantly from her mouth, telling anyone who’ll listen just how cool the Stooges are.

Juno is fully formed kidult; 16 going on 30, or at least that’s perhaps how she wants to be seen. In fact, possibly the thing director Jason Reitman does best in the film is the way he delicately shifts Juno from thinking she’s an adult to actually making her one by the time the film finishes. “I want everything to be perfect, I don’t want it to be broken and shitty like everything else,” she explains, close to the film’s end with remarkable self-awareness.

You can put a lot of Juno’s success down to Page’s performance. She was formidable in 2005’s Hard Candy, playing a 14 year-old girl who kidnaps and terrorises a suspected paedophile. Here, she’s superb as Juno, her performance frighteningly self-assured, capturing that way than teens overcompensate for their insecurities, her naivety poking through her smart comebacks and arch teen speak.

It’s notable that a lot of the weighty, prestige movies vying for awards nominations – There Will Be Blood, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, No Country For Old Men – have all relegated their female characters to the kitchen. I’m kinda reluctant to start making awards season predictions, but even without the lack of conspicuously strong female performances in movies this year, it seems pretty much a foregone conclusion that Page’s prodigious talent will somehow be recognised.

In fact, Juno isn't an indie film, though you could easily be forgiven for thinking that it was. It's bankrolled by Fox Searchlight, the boutique arm of 20th Century Fox. Pretty much all the major studios now have these indie wings; Searchlight have, to their credit, funded movies like Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine -- movies that feel ineffably indie but, um, aren't really. Anyway, it's good company to be in. Juno's a great film.

Juno opens in the UK on February 8
The trailer is here


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