Juno5/5 The history of Juno begins with one young woman and ends with another. Much has been made of 29- year-old screenwriter Diablo Cody’s previous job as a stripper, although she sees the experience as a journalistic experiment. Alongside her regular ‘blogging’, she created a screenplay about a teenage girl who has to deal with the consequences of unplanned pregnancy. It’s an enthusiastic, empathic script, full of nuanced wit and warmth, and has deservedly earned Cody numerous plaudits. She is a raw talent, and the script is similarly raw; at times it tries too hard to be hip and modern (the story works best as a timeless tale), but its faults are easy to forgive, partly because of the simple human truths it displays so skilfully, and partly – perhaps mostly – because of Ellen Page. Make no mistake, Juno may have started as Cody’s story, but it ends firmly in the hands of the 20-year-old Page. She is the fulcrum of the film, the reason for so many of its successes and the one on hand to drag it firmly and calmly through its weaker moments. There is no doubt that the character of Juno, imbued with much of Cody’s own personality, falls beautifully from the script, but Page gives her a vibrancy that not even Cody could have envisaged when she wrote the part. She handles the comic moments with effortless grace, every inch the confident, independent young woman that the script demands. Yet perhaps she excels most in revealing Juno’s fragile teenage heart, hidden under layers of sardonic bravado. There is one particularly poignant moment, as Juno sits in her car at the side of the road, when it would be hard for an actor to find more truth in a character than Ellen Page finds then. It is a phenomenal performance, a joy to watch, and a sparkling oasis in the desert of Hollywood’s drab teenage stereotypes. The rest of the cast provide competent support: JK Simmons, Allison Janney and Jason Bateman all shine, but Jennifer Garner doesn’t have much opportunity to be anything other than obsessive, and Michael Cera seems miscast as the architect of Juno’s pregnancy: his character is too passive to justify his story-arc. Indeed, many of the supporting characters feel incidental; this isn’t really an ensemble piece. Rather, it’s the unpretentious tale of a teenage girl trying to find her place in the world. With its low-budget background and four Oscar nominations, the film has drawn numerous comparisons to 2006’s indie darling Little Miss Sunshine. The evaluation isn’t without merit, but Juno is clearly the younger sibling: slightly less cool, occasionally trying too hard to impress, but ultimately with its heart in the right place. The soundtrack is gentler, the direction simpler, the storyline safer. In the end, that’s what makes the film such an unabashed delight. Like the title character herself, Juno makes a virtue of its flaws to emerge as a strong contender for film of the year: heartfelt, individual, quirky and wise. by Jonathan Tan
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