Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Honest to Blog: "Juno," revisited

It was early Saturday morning, and I had to go to work. Blerg. So did my bf, but his car's in the shop, so we hastened ourselves to the west side together where I dropped him off circa the mall and proceeded even further west to Excelsior Drive, where I bank for a day job. You see, this anecdote does have purpose, because in my car's six-disc-changer, there's "Juno: The Soundtrack," and right around the moment I turned left on Old Sauk, as the slow strumming of Cat Power's "Sea of Love" rose from the speakers, it hit me: I miss Juno MacGuff, and I have to see her again. So, as usual, that morning's four hours of work were more like four ours of gossip, minimal customer activity, and movies on ABC Family. It all ended at noon, when I stepped outside into the (gasp!) midday sun and drove about four minutes to Point Cinema where I was able to catch a 12:30 viewing of "Juno." For SIX DOLLARS. After spending a fortune on holiday cinema at the Sundance, (ie: two tix to "Sweeney Todd," 7:30pm, opening night = roughly $25; now multiply that times...uh...several), this was a fabulous bargain. Granted the quality of a Marcus Theater when placed next to a place like the Sundance leaves much to be desired, I still sat through the previews in full anticipation--me and the two old ladies up front, the old couple near the door, a group of bookclub women in the back, and the duo of high school girls one row up. One cannot deny that "Juno" is approaching the end of its theatrical run, but when one considers what a tumultuous run it's had, one also cannot complain.

So anyway, "It started with a chair."

While not quite as titular as this year's Daniel Day-Lewis wonder-quote ("I drink your milkshake!"), it's a pretty good first line. I can't say I've read into "Juno" quite like I've read into "There Will Be Blood," but I have thought about Miss MacGuff and why she'd begin her story with such an odd and deadpan preface. The voiceover throughout the film is sparse, but when it happens, it's a mixture of reminiscence and daydreams. The first line begins "Juno" much as "Once upon a time" begins any fairy tale. We see Juno gulping Sunny-D. We flash to her and her prince sharing a moment. Then, in the scenic location of a convenience store, the situation at hand is presented. Junebug's pregnant. I never quite understood her willingness for attention on the matter, or even her sheer nonchalance as she presents the "plus sign of death" to a possibly random employee, but I've chalked it up to this: Juno is, while not fearless or stoic, hardened. There's about a five second montage illustrating her abandonment by mom at a very young age. While the whole thing may seem passing, it's quite evocative. Love's longevity is a theme brought up much later in the film, but Juno's feelings about the whole situation are never truly revealed. We do, however, know she's damaged. Ellen Page gives it to us through her sheer control of subtlety. Throughout the film, Juno is quick and sarcastic. This part we got. But while she's always smart and always witty, she also gets herself into this strange, tangled relationship with adopting-father-to-be Mark Loring. She's naive. And while she seems utterly immune to the high school scrutiny of her burgeoning belly, she's still vulnerable when it comes to Paulie. She's hurt and offended when he decides to take soup girl to Prom. She assumes all along that he's traded their mistake for a go at normal teenage life, but what she doesn't realize (even though we all do), is that, while Paulie may have a million billion uncertainties in his lanky adolescence, the one thing, beyond all shadows of all doubts, that he is certain about is Juno.

And even though I adore all things about this movie, the thing that I adore most is Diablo Cody's reverent regard for teenagers. She's written them, not as narcissistic airheads with no respect for authority, but as regular human beings with brains and guts and hearts. I have to say that, as far as moments go, when Paulie Bleeker notices Juno's absence in the crowd after his race (where he set a new district record, might I add), it becomes obvious that what matters more to him than winning, than normalcy, than soup girl and a trip to some classmate's cabin, is Juno MacGuff. Of course, as previously stated, we all know that Paulie has loved Juno all along, but it's this moment that brings it all to such serious light. And it's the seriousness that I truly love. The crust of "Juno" is whimsical and hilarious, but the characters all seem to know that, at the very core of everything that's happened, there's a lot at stake. It's an important movie, but it's not a message movie. It's anchored in by quirky dialogue, wonderful characters and, of course, its performances.

And the performance that I enjoy most, aside that from Miss Ellen Page, comes from Jennifer Garner. She was viciously overlooked in the award season, but that doesn't matter now. I think of the unwavering consistency Jen brings in her portrayal of Vanessa Loring. How she pains over everything. Her perpetual hesitance. The sad, jaded desire in her eyes as she kneels down to feel the baby kick, and then the frantic disappointment when at first, she does not. It's a very moving performance, memorable to say the least. I like that, even as all begins to unfold, Vanessa remains intact. She grows throughout the movie, shows us that even while she sports an anal desire for things to be in working order, she can weather change. She truly is ready to be a mother. And we're all happy when, in the end, she finally is.

Well, I'm happy. "Juno" comes to DVD April 15th, 2008. It's still playing in theaters nationwide, in some places, for as little as $6.

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