There are few things I love more than curling up on the sofa with a good film – especially if that film is such an unsuspecting delight. Last night we watched Juno for the first time (God Bless HMV for their ‘cheaper-than-the-cinema’ DVD discounts) and I am still filled with the warmth of this truly fabulous film.
If you have ever watched Little Miss Sunshine you will know that although some darker moments are portrayed, you end with an overwhelming sense of serenity, happiness and total joy. If so, Juno is definitely a film for you. I remember the film coming to the cinemas a few years ago (2007?) and thinking it was just another in the onslaught of tacky teen flicks, but I am happily proved very wrong. This is a wonderful film that reaches so many corners of life that it can be appreciated and adored by pretty much any age.
It tells the tale of, lets face it, a parent’s worst nightmare; a sixteen year old daughter announcing her pregnancy. And that is pretty much the whole plot, well, that and Juno MacGuff’s incredibly mature decision to find adoptive parents for her unborn child. Simple story line. Which is why I think it is so effective, beautiful and ultimately, funny. Juno MacGuff, eldest child in a second marriage, is more or less what ‘typical’ teenagers aspire to be; independently cool, brave, courageous, funny, strong-willed and minded and seemingly unafraid of what the world can throw at you. Maybe this is because her father is an ex-military man? Maybe because her step mother is a strength behind Juno that she had never had before? Maybe just because it’s fiction, but Juno is one hell of a teenager – one that certainly didn’t exist in my own teen world. She is a clear inspiration that shows that no ‘trouble’ is insurmountable.
But, this portrayal is not given in a twee, overly-sympathetic, dramatic or ‘smushy’ way. The nine months of storyline are cynical, witty and deeply funny but without missing those moments of sadness and human vulnerability. There is no over-labouring (excuse the pun) of the fact that this is an unsuitable situation for a young girl and there are no brash lessons screaming out of the screen about parenthood and our own defects as adults, but they are delicately interwoven into a stunning tapestry of cinema.And usually sparked by our unlikely heroine. You find yourself thinking about ‘if that were me’ and the interactions that would occur. And you realise that, although unconventional in almost every sense, the MacGuff family are one bound by love, commitment, loyalty, and witty one-liners that leave you literally rolling with laughter.
Some of the best of these moments are left to the brilliant delivery of The West Wing‘s Allison Janney (10 Things fans will probably know her best as Ms. Perky or as Penny Pingleton’s Mother in Hairspray). Her roles are always wonderful to watch, and that of step-mum Brenda MacGuff is no different. Her fierce protection of kin is not always obvious due to her obsession with dogs she doesn’t own, but it is there. She shines through as a maternal figure that is willing to protect her child to the end of the earth – but not before wishing Juno was into ‘hard drugs’ rather than being pregnant. A flawed character she is, put one that is stoic and proud and brought to life so perfectly by Janney.
This sense of motherhood is a very different view that you get from the prospective ‘mother’ Jennifer Garner. She plays the role of adoptive mother found in the ‘penny adds’, Vanessa. Subtlety, Garner shows the up-tight desperation of a woman who just wants to be a mother, but can’t. Although you mostly dislike Vanessa and her motherhood obsession, you really understand it. But again, to fit with the ethos of the film, you are not bombarded by her personal tragedy; its sits alongside allowing you to draw your own emotion (should you wish) from her plight. It is almost as if you are simply granted an invitation to her grief and it is up to you whether you choose to take that path or not. As a female I think there was something of an automatic reflex at this point, however, by the end – whether male or female – I think you admire another type of strength that Vanessa represents.
But it is not just a film about strong women, a nudge of the head must also be attributed to the males of the plot. Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim) plays the unlikely father-to-be-but-not, Paulie Bleeker. He almost gently wafts in and out of the story without much of a word, but you see his complex emotions and panic in such small yet precise detail. He is burdened with the fact that all of the ‘situation’ is taken completely out of his hands by Juno. She tackles the pregnancy head on (a little bull in china shop actually) so as not to cause anyone else stress or concern, unknowingly causing Paulie his own unspoken version. You feel deeply sorry for him, as no one even thinks him capable of causing such an event in the first place. Cera is fabulous at depicting the awkward, skinny teen trying to deal with more than just the ordinary traumas of growing up.
But, ultimately, the show is entirely stolen by Ellen Page, Juno herself. I have heard the actress’ name rumbled around in connection to other films (one of the X-men films and Inception to name a couple) but not actually put a face to the name until last night. I was utterly blown away. I didn’t feel like I was watching an actress playing Juno, I felt as if this weird, brash teenage girl who likes to move furniture into people’s gardens and hold an old man’s pipe between her teeth, was a living, breathing, real human being. Juno’s maturity and unconventionality is so refreshing and believable that I found myself wanting to find her on facebook!
But, part of me believes that this is not just because Page is an incredible young actress, but because she herself is part Juno. The charisma, wit and love that she embodies cannot solely be derived from a script, it has to be carved by one who knows best. The casting here was spot on and I cannot wait to see her in more lead roles. I think I would happily go on the day of release to any of Ellen Page’s films from here on. Particularly if the rumours are true about her role as Dorothy in another sequel to The Wizard of Oz (a Drew Barrymore directed film Surrender Dorothy).
Page is something of an enigma to try to blog about, as is the film Juno actually, because I can’t do justice to either. All I can say is, if you haven’t watched it yet, you must. I know it will be one DVD in our house that threatens to be played until it is threadbare (if that is possible), well worth the £3 Steve paid, and then some! Pure, beautiful, hilarious brilliance.