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February 20, 2008

You just knew, watching the otherwise very annoying Hard Candy (don’t get me started), that Ellen Page was going to be a star. Not just a star in the way that – oh, I dunno – Scarlett Johanssen is a star, but in a real “Ma! They’re looking at me! Ma!” kind of way. Proper, shining, up-there-in-lights stardom. Juno starts and ends, she says, ‘with a chair’, but really it’s with her…and she’s in every scene, and what’s more, apart from a brief Delivery Room moment, she steals every damn scene by a country mile.

Pregnant after a moment of boredom by her not-really nerdy-cool boyfriend, Bleeker, Juno MacGuff makes the unusual decision of seemingly happily giving ‘it’ up to two wealthy aspirants, Mark and Vanessa. Blithely accepting that she’s simply not equipped at 16 to care for a baby, and wisecracking her way through the inconvenience of carrying the child for someone else, she hard-assedly gets on with the business of being pregnant.

We follow Juno through the whole shebang, including the steadily uncertain possible deepening of feelings shared between her and the adoptive Dad. But this is so much more than a two-dimensional portrayal, and Ellen Page and the screenplay by Diablo Cody are far far too cute to let us get away – as per Waitress, which incidentally I really liked, but which doesn’t compare – with a simple heartstring-tugger.

Oh, no, there’s way more going on beneath the surface (pun intended) with this. Page carefully eases out clues as to her real feelings; for the potential parents, for the real Dad, for the baby, and by doing so drags us deeper and deeper into her world. Despite the outer shell that makes her a tough little nut, there’s not just a little girl, but something much grander and more important going on. The way that her family offer her unflinching support while the adoptives crack explains a lot about this young woman and her reserves of resolve.

Although it’s Page’s movie everybody plays a blinder, none more so than West Wing corker Allison Janney, as Juno’s get-on-with-it stepmom Brenda. Wise to the girl’s headstrong too-sharp wit she’s always ready to deflect the punches and roll with ’em if needs be. It’s not up to sharp-tongued Juno to come out with the snappy dialogue in the Maternity Hospital (she’s too busy being torn apart by contractions and waiting for the epidural), but Bren is very happy to tell her the plain truth that “doctors are sadists who like to play God and watch lesser people scream”.

There are nuggets like that peppered throughout. Sometimes, though, as when she tells her Dad, Mac, that she’s pregnant, wise-ass wouldn’t cover it, and instead we realise that Juno is still just a kid:

Mac: I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.
Juno: I don’t know what kind of girl I am.

At the end, well, we do know what kind of girl she is, because Page has painted her in perfectly, and the final pay-offs are all perfectly pitched. Plus, what can I say without giving it away, they don’t go the route you expected. It’s the Road Less Travelled, and that’s cool, because it allows a lovely touching final scene that had this punter smiling and blubbing in equal measure.


Oh, and it’s the soundtrack of the year, bar none.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2008 9:45 pm

    Meh, I still haven’t got around to seeing this, probably because it’s the only decent film on in our local 4-screen (five minutes’ walk), and so it seems too handy to be urgent … until it disappears without warning and has to be added to the Lovefilm list. Not that it strikes me as the sort of film which absolutely must be seen on the big screen.

  2. amner permalink
    March 22, 2008 4:22 pm

    No, it’s not necessarily a Big Screen experience, but go, man, Go!

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