Revisiting Juno's world provided one of those rare moments where I had found a "film for life". Many well-written and meaningful comedies find their way into my player at times when I can't decide on what I'm in the mood for. Swingers and Lost in Translation are two of such films; Juno, Jason Reitman's darkly satiric indie romp through teen pregnancy, has joined that rotation. I loved the film's script and performances from the start, and that love has only strengthened over the months I've waited to return to its charm.
Juno takes a thoughtful spin on an old cliché storyline revolving around unplanned parenthood. After spending a curious night together with her friend Paul Bleeker (Michael Cera, Superbad) in a big comfy chair a few months prior, Juno (Ellen Page, Hard Candy) discovers that she's in for seven more months of paying for that mistake. Instead of slyly sneaking off to a clinic to change her pregnancy status, she has a change of heart and chooses to go through with the pregnancy. Instead of keeping the kid, however, Juno finds a picturesque, pseudo-surrogate family (Jason Bateman, Arrested Development, and Jennifer Garner, Alias) to adopt her and Bleeker's child.
Reitman's film, as sharply characteristic and biting as Thank You for Smoking, takes on the feel of a colorful mosaic as we follow through Juno's remaining seven months of pregnancy. All the way through, she has plenty of support from her understated and supportive parents (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man, and Allison Janney, 10 Things I Hate About You) and her loopy cheerleader friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby). Juno leads us through all the mundane occurrences, from ultrasounds to clothing modification, as well as through the more tongue-tied moments with her baby's family-to-be. There's a moment when Juno and her father meet with the adopting parents, and their lawyer, that's priceless. It easily draws out and distinguishes the differences between the characters, both between the two families as well as the individual differences, and similarities, among all parties at the table.
Juno's a great character narrative with exceedingly well-crafted personalities across the board, but the film's impact hinges on the gallant performance from Ellen Page. It's interesting to compare her talents here to her outstanding performance in Hard Candy, a ridiculously tense thriller about a renegade Little Red Riding Hood-esque figure with a penchant for revenge on a child molester. She's an overwhelmingly talented satirist, especially at her age. Page's Juno shares some interesting similarities to her Hard Candy character Haley Stark, points that echo through her quality as an actress. She can appear intelligent beyond her character's years, while also latching firmly onto the age of the character with her mannerisms. Page doesn't just sell maturity, she sells youthful maturity - meaning she can be both believably naïve and intelligent in the same breath.
Ellen Page folds together with Diablo Cody's wonderfully sharp script, the real star of the show, and crafts one of the most entertaining and touching films of the year. Cody's pen handles different age groups in different ways, obviously, but she makes certain to keep a very even balance between quirk and sincerity. And, though it teeters along here and there, Juno's still grin worthy even when it does lean a little over that line of absurdity. Most importantly, Juno's barrage of one-liners and sarcastic swordfights between its characters can be downright hilarious in context.
It's not just the scornful preggo hippie chick that gets to have all the fun, either; all of the fleshed characters have scathing humor written into their parts. As a matter of fact, some of the smaller character scenes, from Rainn Wilson's little ignition of a one-liner to get the film started to Allison Janney's lengthy reprimand on an ultrasound technician, provide some of the more memorable moments of the film. Where Juno really delivers a shot of believable impact, however, is within the maturing relationships between Juno and the adoptive parents - not as a cohesive unit, but as the individuals themselves. Juno, as a character, molds to each person that she interacts with in the film. As she states earlier in the film, she doesn't really "know what kind of a girl" she is. Her character clearly grows throughout the film, which can be seen even through her steadfast and bull-headed charisma.
Juno's a comically melancholy film, yet an attractive one to watch and listen to, as well. Jason Reitman's directorial eyes and ears were obviously finely tuned during this production. His director of photography, Eric Steelberg, plays a major part in how great this film looks. He uses exaggerated color schemes, such as stark oranges and cold blues, to illustrate seasonal shifts that help pull us through the timeshifts in the narrative. There are a lot of quality details that he captures through his lens that gives Juno's warm photography a lot of personality. When accompanied with the undertone lyrics from the assortment of indie music laced with Juno's aesthetics, it keeps the film's background as rhythmic and upbeat as the darting dialogue.
Reitman's comedic drama really left an impression on me from the get-go, yet it's only with a second visit that it evolves from being a quirky and entertainingly touching piece to being a real gem of an achievement. Sure, the dialogue's like rapid fire rhetoric filled with more kitschy modern flavor than you can shake a stick at, but it also has a very effective flow of reflection running underneath the pandemonium. Juno came out in a year that showcased a lot of powerhouse dramas, namely No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, but it still thrusts forward with its witty charisma and enchanting heart enough to leave a lasting mark on the short list of 2007's best films.
Juno comes in two different versions, a single-disc edition and this two-disc "Digital Copy Special Edition". There seems to be a few exclusive featurettes on the first disc here, but outside of that the differences between the two revolve around the second disc with the extra copy and the alternate artwork with the slipcover. The slipcover does, however, have raised little orange tic-tacs. That's worth the money alone, right?
Juno is presented in a stellar 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, enhanced for your 16x9 televisions. This is a very attractive film with the lion's share of interestingly utilized color schemes and objects across the board. Everything here looks rather stunning, from the level of details available to the range of colors used. Now, noise gets to be an issue at a few points, such as when looking upon a few solid colors like the tans on the couches or the solid blue backdrops. Some of it can be attributed to film grain, but there's still a bit of excess noise. But that's if we're going to nitpick, because Juno really does look fantastic across the board.
Meh. Juno's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track serves its purpose, but it's nothing terribly impressive. It's an exceedingly dialogue-driven film, so surround effects aren't much of a necessity. The soundstage really takes over at the very front of the speaker framework, yet it still sounds quite strong. However, vocal clarity is top shelf - completely audible - as is all the musical accompaniment. It's an enjoyable mix, though not very dynamic. Spanish and French surround tracks are available, as are English and Spanish subtitles.
A commentary featuring Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is available, and it is a hoot. As can be seen through some of their interviews and the making-of featurette, Reitman and Cody built a very upbeat and warm relationship. Their chemistry carries over into their commentary, filled with a lot of laughter and jokes that make the track very, very entertaining. It's also informative, from the incorporation of freshly assembled licorice ropes to dialogue and scenes written on the fly from Cody. Reitman even points out continuity issues that he had, which is great. I loved this track.
Honest to Blog! Creating Juno Featurette (Exclusive to Two-Disc):
This is a feature that takes Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, sits them in some theater seats, and has them control the rhythm of the piece through a pseudo Q-and-A session. It splices some good scenes from the film into its runtime to illustrate a few points, as well as including a smidge of behind-the-scenes material. It's not nearly as solid as the audio commentary, but it's still an interesting watch.
Three Featurettes on Diablo Cody, Jason Reitman, and Page, Thirby, and Cera (Exclusive to Two-Disc):
Separate featurettes fall into sequence here, each of them following a similar praise-worthy theme spliced together through interviews collected on-set and off. Each of these quips lasts for around 8-9 minutes long and features a lot of scenes from the film cut into the material:
Diablo Cody is Totally Boss, focuses on her down-to-earthiness and her availability to work on the fly while on-set. She's a talented writer with a bright future; hopefully, other directors will allow her to have the same openness as Jason Reitman.
Jason Reitman For Shizz, focuses on his concentration on the film's tonality and realism. Several of the actors praise his eye for tangibility, as well as his recent ability to identify with parenthood.
Way Beyond Out "Maturity" Level focuses on Ellen Page, Michael Cera, and Olivia Thirlby's capacity to portray a situation slightly beyond their age. It's a nice little featurette with some clever words about each of the actors' capabilities.
These twenty-minutes of deleted scenes seem to be removed for tonal decisions and to condense the material. One deleted scene completely changes the tone of one of the final moments in the film. It takes away potency of one of the stronger scenes in the film. Overall, Reitman and his editor made some very wise decisions here.
Cast and Crew Jam:
3 minute music video type deal where all the cast and crew (producers, PAs, et al) in the film goof off on camera in front of a sparkly backdrop.
Twenty-two minutes of tests, featuring a lot of Cera and Page, pop up in this feature. Lots of the scenes from the film are featured with some altered dialogue from the film, even a few stand-ins here and there.
Gag Reel and Gag Take:
There's about 5 minutes of gag cuts in this piece, one of which is around a minute and a half run of really funny tension between Bateman, Page, and Garner. Lots of "sorry"s to be heard here.
Disc 2 - The Digital Copy:
Here's the kicker - the extra disc with this set is nothing more than easily-transferrable copies of Juno onto PCs and assorted Apple iDevices.
Is Juno the best film of year? Maybe not, but it's probably the best comedy of the year. Filled with a warm satirical streak and a basketfull of fantastic performances, it's got to be the film I enjoyed the most this season. Ellen Page's acting chops get better with each performance she delivers, while Diablo Cody's name is now on the map as a writer to keep your eye out for in the future. Paired with solid technical merits and a load of extensive extras, the first disc is a very solid presentation. I'd say this is a disc that most anyone will be happy to purchase and comes exceedingly Highly Recommended - possibly collector's series level.
Note: After a little in-store comparison, I've discovered the following:
The "Honest to Blog" featurette, as well as the three other 8-9 minute pieces, seem to be exclusive to the Special Edition. The "Digital Copy Special Edition" is a little pricey for those few added supplements (and the second disc dedicated to the digital copies). However, it's still a very solid and comprehensive package.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site