January 21, 2008

Juno

I am surprised that Juno, a modest, pleasant, heartfelt and original, but only mildly funny comedy, has turned into such a "big deal". The invaluable "word of mouth" has helped Fox Searchlight boost Juno's screen count and box office to the point where it reached #2 at the national box office earlier this month. Meanwhile, director Jason Reitman has accomplished something his directing father Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters) has never done: Jason's up for the Best Director Oscar, all for not screwing up a fine screenplay and a collection of delightful and nuanced performances.
Ellen Page (who turns 21 next month) is nuanced and charming as Juno, the wisecracking and precocious sixteen year old who gets pregnant after she and her friend Bleeker get bored one evening and fool around to end the tedium. Michael Cera improves his shy and sweet mumbling character we've seen in Superbad and on Arrested Development. Both the casting director and the screenplay deserve credit for J.K. Simmons as Juno's dad. His brusque, no bull attitude helps make the Juno character more convincing. The relationship between Juno and her stepmother (Allison Janney) is also well drawn.
The movie did not begin well: the first ten minutes was almost unbearably clever and hip. The emo-folky, badly sung pop songs, the hand-animated title sequence, the too-clever-by-half dialogue, were all grating and precious. The screenplay is filled with overly clever teenage hipster slang, but the frequency thankfully dials back after the first ten minutes.
Besides the original songs and score, the movie is filled with the kind of underappreciated rock music which Wes Anderson has already made tedious. Here's a message to feature film directors like Jason Reitman: You already have the coolest job in the world. You don't have to prove how hip you are by putting The Kinks and Cat Power in your movie.
THEATER NOTES: This was my first-ever visit to the Lexington Flick in downtown Lexington, MA. I think I just set a personal record for "Closest Parking Spot to the Theater" award-- I parked right out front, maybe three spaces from the marquee. The theater itself has been split into two screens- the balcony is its own screen, and the main house (where we saw Juno) is the #1 screen. A new projection booth was built where the last few rows of the main seating used to be. The theater is, as my wife put it, "well preserved". The theater smelled a little funky, the seats were a bit saggy, and the projection was below average, but for a modest indie comedy, it was all OK. I may go there again strictly for convenience's sake!