Intellect: 80% (first half 95%)
Notable: Direction, Script, Universal Acting, and Cinematography
My draws to this movie were threefold (in order): The description of the film as “postmodern”, the music of the original and authentically poststructuralist, Kimya Dawson, and the extraordinary Jennifer Garner (no analysis required). The film is about a 16 year old girl, named Juno, who impulsively (or, as the film suggests at several points, with a vague intention) gets pregnant. The actress, the irrepressible Ellen Page (notably Kitty Pride from X3), is luminous and easily dominates the film. Her voice is richly intelligent and seems to belong to an older person, but her petite elfin body and pale, unmarred skin (played well in some very clever cinematography) suggest an even *younger* girl, leading to a fascinating juxtaposition of “reads” on her character. Not to dwell to much on my first hope for the film, but this was largely crushed. Of course, this was completely expected and did not ruin my enjoyment of the film. The second half of the film in particular devolves into a quest for cultural normalcy, while the first half revels in individual choice and the open seeking for identity and, at several points, achieves what the reviewers were keying on as “postmodern”. At one point in this first half, Juno goes into a small and typically charming fit about the point of the term “sexually active,” saying “what does that even mean?” Making a postmodern point that one cannot subjectively turn off one’s sexual identity and nature, and pointing out that “active” is an unreasonably fluid term in that phrase’s context. This is where the film is at its most interesting. The music by Kimya Dawson is, I expect, for most viewers, the film’s primary revelation. Her childish voice and ragged, sharply-pointed melodies mirror the exact juxtaposition of the Juno character. In fact, I’ve rarely seen a score so carefully melded to a film’s intent. In a way, the film functions best as a primer for Kimya’s music (this being high praise). As to the last point of interest in the film, Jennifer Garner is well-served by this film. If anyone forgets, or doesn’t realize, how inordinately elegant an actress is, her utterly brittle, dialogue-stark, and exposed performance in this film tell it all. As an actress, she gets remarkably poorly-served by her films. Her role on “Alias” highlighted her range and charm very well, but only the film “13 Going on 30″ has even touched on her greater ability. However, that film is so delightful, so perfectly a part of its time and place, that it stands alone quite nobly to showcase this unique actress. Films like “Juno” remind us that she is still out there, still able to surprise and devastate. Her character is interesting because she is deeply flawed, something gorgeous leading ladies probably find hard vehicles to find. She is a distant, cold, and uninvolved wife, neither supportive or connected to her husband. This is made very clear in the kinesthetics of her body language and her obsession with the possession of a child. It hints at some greater trauma in the couple’s past. Justin Bateman (suddenly looking like a slightly younger, American version of Branagh in this film) is superb as her disconnected husband, himself flawed and foolish, not at home in his own cold white and sterile house. Yet, if Garner is a terrible wife, her single desire of denied parenthood, is slowly revealed as her perilous and joyous singular agenda. Few actresses can convey obsessive conviction and capacity for joy like Garner, and she blazes that charm here when she gets her moment. Her ability to do brittle angst is new here, I haven’t seen that before.
This film would have been perfect if it had stayed true to it’s individualistic beginning. When Juno falls into the trap that all Hollywood films inevitably plop own into, of asking “I just need to know that two people can stay together forever…”, the film slips from its pure plateau of an original character study and falls into traditional agendized romance. We’re intended to see Juno growing up here, but what we really see is her independence as a person waning. This is a minor and personal disappointment however, and I am happy to say that this film is a lovely tribute to the value of adoption and a very sharply-scored tribute to Kimya Dawson. The character-study of Juno has many moving points and gives us an Actress-Who-Must-Be-Watched for many years to come.