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Movies Review

Juno

By
Juno
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriters: Diablo Cody
Starring: Ellen Page, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner
Running time: 96 mins
Certificate: 12A

Steaming onto our shores amidst a blaze of hype and Oscar nominations, this quirky tale of teenage pregnancy is a rather underwhelming cinematic offering bolstered by a marvellous performance by Ellen Page as the child with the unwanted bump.

The narrative follows the emotional plight of the outwardly blasé Juno MacGuff, a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl who discovers that she is pregnant after romping on a chair with athletic classmate Paulie. Her trip to the abortion clinic, complete with a very unique and amusing picket line, makes her decide to keep the baby after the sudden realisation that it has fingernails. After spotting an advert in the local paper by a married couple desperate to adopt, Juno pays Mark and Vanessa a visit and agrees to hand over the sprog once it emerges. However, relations between the husband and wife aren't quite as rosy as the schmaltzy photographs that adorn their walls.

Juno is dominated by the superb Ellen Page in the title role. She creates a multi-dimensional, believable human being who transcends the celluloid and leaps into the hearts and minds of the audience. Blessed with the kind of acerbic wit memorably deployed by Frasier Crane's wife Lilith in Cheers, Juno is also given an underlying sense of adolescent vulnerability beneath her confident exterior. Page's mannerisms, expressions and delivery are all finely imbued with a great degree of honesty and melancholic understatement, with the character's psyche gradually peeled like an onion skin throughout the duration of the film.

The lighthearted, comical treatment of a very serious issue may well be lapped up by the repressed, chattering classes (in a similar vein to the overrated Little Miss Sunshine), but Juno's self-conscious quirks don't always have the desired effect. The film doesn't quite take the dramatic risks it should do, not expanding upon Mark's apparent non-platonic leanings towards Juno and its attempts to cultivate a happy ending feel rather out of place when one considers the future of a certain toddler. Juno's actions during the denouement serve to detract from the film's apparent desire to portray her as a feminist icon and an embodiment of empowerment.

Juno's eventual loving attitude towards the father of the baby also belies her supposed intelligence and functions as a means of contriving a heart-warming moment designed to ensure the audience are smiling as the credits start to roll. Grabbing the nearest sick bag is a more justifiable course of action. For a film that tries to be distinctly 'offbeat', it seems to be running scared of alienating the mainstream cinemagoers.

The supporting performances in the film are all amiable and appealing, particularly Jason Bateman's turn as Mark, a deceptively complex figure with a great sense of fun that translates well onto the screen. Yet there are many moments throughout the narrative when the dialogue, as spoken by various characters, feels like it is issuing from the lips of the same figure. The deadpan, mocking tone adopted by Juno seems to not only inhabit her father (which you can put down to genes), but her surrogate mother, the prospective adoptive father of her child and whoever else is around when the script calls for a funny line to be delivered. This distinct authorial voice annoyingly detracts from the very lifelike Juno MacGuff and makes one consciously aware of the film's constructed, fictional nature.

Perhaps the flaws of Juno are dwelled upon too much over the course of this review. The film has many attributes, most notably Page's brilliance, some earnest and witty dialogue from Cody and suitably non-intrusive direction by Jason Reitman that wisely foregrounds the central performance. Sadly, while Juno may be able to carry a big bun in her oven, this film can't quite bear the heavy burden of expectation so well.

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