“It all started with a chair”
It’s a good feeling when you can walk out of your very first Toronto Film Festival showing thinking, “Wow, that was great.” The screening was for Juno, the sophomore effort from director Jason Reitman. Let’s just say that the proverbial slump is nowhere to be seen. I enjoyed Thank You For Smoking immensely, however, the ending couldn’t hold the tone he had set up from the start. With Juno, I kept waiting for the same pitfall, but thankfully it never showed face. As Reitman said in the post-show Q&A, when reading debut writer Diablo Cody’s work, he too was anticipating the train to derail and couldn’t believe it stayed solid through to the end. For a script that took her only two months to write, after a producer happening across her blog emailed her his compliments, she hit this one out of the park.
The story is about a girl who just finds out she is pregnant by her best friend Paul Bleeker, played by the wonderful Ellen Page and Michael Cera respectively. Trying to come to grips with the situation, and dealing with issues “way beyond her maturity level,” Page decides to give the child up to a family that will love him or her. On the journey that follows, some quirky relationships manifest between Juno and her baby’s father, her own father and stepmother, and the family she is giving the baby to. Throughout it all is a strong display of comedy gold. As the screenwriter Cody said, while she was never pregnant, the relationships are surely autobiographical. She experienced life as a sixteen-year-old, and by adding the dynamic of childrearing, was able to hypothesize the antics that could ensue.
While the subject matter is serious stuff, Reitman allows the screenplay to circumvent the weight with a big dose of levity. If nothing else, you will leave the film remembering some top-notch one-liners as Cody has a knack for sarcasm and witty retorts. The abundance of laughs helps get us through the heavier moments and never shortchanges or patronizes the situation at hand. All the credit here goes to Page for a powerhouse performance. She is coming into her own as a woman to look for in Hollywood. Her attitude is infectious while being slightly rude as far as social standards go. The character is fully believable as one who understands what is happening yet tries to play it off by disguising it with humor.
That humor succeeds even more by support from the rest of the stellar cast. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney have spot-on timing with their cynical yet loving affections for their daughter Juno. Everything Simmons says is classic and when Janney gets room to roam free; she delivers some of the biggest laughs. Michael Cera is hysterical as always with his innocent looks of naïveté and natural screen persona. Reitman did admit that he ad-libbed a few lines, and to enhance a script like this one at his age by going with the flow shows the talent he possesses. I just hope he breaks out of the mold a little bit more and soon, as he has played the same role in the last three enterprises I have seen him in. And, what better way to begin the film than with a spot-on cameo from an uncredited Rainn Wilson that brings the laughter strong straight away.
As far as the heart to the story, it really is the relationship between Juno and the couple she is letting adopt her child played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Their interactions are the core of the film. Each experience sets a new learning curve for the young girl and it is the evolution between the three that creates the film’s payoff. Garner may be a tad overbearing in her presentation, however, if she toned it down, it might not have been as effective.
Overall, this is the kind of small film that proves how good art can bring great people together. The rapport between Reitman, Page, and Cody post-viewing was very light and cheery as though they were longtime friends. It appears everyone involved had a blast and believed in the message they set out to show. Never moralizing or shoving an agenda down our throats, this comedy is here to entertain. The laughs are big to the point where you may miss the next line, but that’s ok as its one I’d revisit anytime.
Juno 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½
Tidbits from the filmmakers:
• On being willing to receive input from Cody during production, Reitman says, “I’ve never been a sixteen-year-old girl…although I tried.”
• On the producers being American, Reitman says, “Oh, no, this is Canadian, it was shot here.” Ellen Page replies, “We’ll just use their money.”
• Props to Diablo Cody for not letting early fame get to her head and sporting a Superman t-shirt to the screening.
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival