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‘Juno’ rises above film critic clichés

POSTED: April 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/Fox Searchlight

Sixteen-year-old Juno Maguff (Ellen Page) faces her pregnancy with sarcasm and wit in the movie, "Juno." She is pictured with her stepmother Bren (Allison Janney), right, and friend Leah (Olivia Thurlby).

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Each year, a film comes along that brings out the critics’ clichés. You know, those underdog, low-budget movies that make critics write things like, "a movie with a heart as big as its star" (that’s a real quote, by the way). Or, "This Year’s ‘Little Film That Could’" (also real). And of course, the classic, "you’ll laugh, you’ll cry ..." You know the rest.

This year’s entry is "Juno," whose title character (Ellen Page) is a 16-year-old girl as clever and smart as she is eccentric and strong-willed. Problem is, one night she and her kinda boyfriend, Paulie (Michael Cera), have unprotected sex and must now face the consequences.

People are calling "Juno" this year’s "Little Miss Sunshine" for both its similarly sardonic humor and because it’s a low-budget film that has become a word-of-mouth hit.

Some are calling it a female version of "Knocked Up," which is a less apt comparison. The characters dealing with unplanned pregnancy in "Juno" are in their teens, so it’s infinitely more complex than what the 20-somethings in "Knocked Up" must deal with.

The most accurate comparison being thrown around is "Waitress," another of this year’s winning indie films that is also built around a unique woman who would rather not be pregnant.

But "Juno" leads its audience over more emotional ground than any of those movies.

This little movie will puzzle you, make you laugh, make you remember what it’s like to be a teen with no particular direction, bring tears to your eyes, put a big fat lump in your throat and then leave you feeling rejuvenated.

I know, I know, I’m dancing around the clichés. The problem is, "Juno" genuinely provokes those responses. Since the John Hughes ’80s, irony has ruled teen comedies — and for that matter, most comedy in general.

Teenagers are all little fountains of sarcasm. If a movie drifts anywhere near genuine emotion, it’s called lame or saccharine.

"Juno" breaks that rule, and thank goodness. Sarcasm, detachment and cool only take you so far. When thrust into adultdom, their powers wear off faster than the polish on a pair of Doc Martens.

Sooner or later, you have to engage and deal with life. Juno does her best to remain emotionally unaffected while the baby wreaks havoc on her physically, but that is, of course, impossible. She can’t stop biology, and she can’t stave off the multitude of changes brought on by one simple, universal, even innocent act.

And we can’t keep ourselves from falling in love with Juno, character and movie (cliché alert!). The writing (supplied by current hot commodity Diablo Cody) and pacing (created by one of my favorite young directors, Jason Reitman) crackle like a classic Cary Grant screwball.

Page gives the most diverse and flawless female performance of the year, and Cera is the second coming of Bob Newhart with his unique yet understated and spot-on comedic timing. (I know, Newhart is still with us. Just go with it.)

This loveable loser of a movie will win your heart ... (agh! Somebody stop me!).

"Juno" manages to seem both rooted in right now yet timeless.

It is, all clichés intended, a little film with a big heart that is sweet but never trite and stumbles onto a perfect, if unexpected, ending.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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