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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Juno (Blu-ray)
Juno (Blu-ray)
Fox // PG-13 // April 15, 2008 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 8, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Look, you have a functioning Internet connection, so it's probably safe to skip past the first few bullet points. Y'know, plucky indie comedy shot for $6 million and change goes onto be one of the highest grossing flicks of the year, penned by a first-timer outta Minneapolis whose only writing up to that point was her blog about stripping, ranked dizzyingly high on just about every critics' year-end list, nominated for -- if not lugging home -- gosh-darn near every laurel and statuette the industry hands out... Yeah. Juno.

To run through the plot anyway, the movie stars Hard Candy's Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff, a sixteen year old in a sleepy Minnesota town who's just found out she's pregnant. The papa is her pal Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), an awkward kid on the track team who's been mooning over Juno forever, but her boredom-induced screw looks to be the beginning and end of their sarcastic-finger-quotes-relationship. She's not all that upset by the news, and public works must be putting something more than fluoride in the water supply 'cause no one else that Juno tells flips out either. Her family's not hanging up any piƱatas or anything after hearing the news, but they support their daughter and stand by her decision to go through with the pregnancy. The plan is to squirt out the kid, scrub off the blood and guts, and fork the tyke over to upscale married couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Vanessa desperately wants to have a child and maybe has it in the back of her mind that a kid'd be duct tape for her floundering marriage. Juno and Mark hit it off in a totally platonic way, bonding over screeching guitars, splatter flicks, and comic books, but that kinda shoves the middle-aged Mark headfirst towards a mid-life crisis and...y'know, sets up conflict 'cause a movie needs conflict.

I hafta admit to finding it tough to settle into Juno when I first caught it theatrically. First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody gives the pop culture-addled dialogue such an aggressively cute/kitschy/glib/hip/whatever bent that its first few minutes came across as awfully stilted and unnatural. "Third test today, Momma Bear; your Eggo's preggo, no doubt about it." "That ain't no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet." ...and, y'know, "Phuket, Thailand!" used in place of one of those words you can only drop once or twice in a PG-13 flick. Think David Mamet by way of Enid from Ghost World. It's the sort of writing that looks really clever when it's spat out of a laser printer, but it took me a good ten or fifteen minutes to ease into those waters when actually hearing that dialogue spoken aloud. Giving Juno a second whirl on Blu-ray is kind of like making it into year two in the Coney Island Polar Bear Club; the water's still a little uncomfortable, but at least I have a better idea what I'm diving into. I liked the movie quite a bit more my second time through, and other viewers who took a while to ease into Juno might also warm up to it more quickly with another pass.

While some of those early stretches of dialogue can be a little tough to choke down at first, Cody's writing and my sense of humor clicked like a couple of Duplo blocks. Why Juno briefly mulls over an abortion: "'Cause, y'know, they say pregnancy often leads to...infants." Gabbing about guitars: "My axe is named Roosevelt...after Franklin, not Ted. Franklin was the hot one with the polio." On international adoption: "You should've gone to China 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. They pretty much just put them in those T-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events." ...and if you haven't already seen Juno and don't crack a smile at any of those quotes...? You're probably better off passing. Me, I'm a dork, and that makes me a cheap date for any movie that can throw in a debate about gut-slingin' horror maestros H.G. Lewis and Dario Argento or find a way to squeeze Diana Ross into a discussion of Roman mythology.

Even though so much of Juno's dialogue is meticulously shaped and...okay, maybe more than a little overwritten, there's often something sincere and genuine about it too. After Juno breaks the news of her befingernailed-oven-baking-bun to her pop, he takes a disappointed jab at her that he didn't think she was that kind of girl. Juno's quiet response -- "I don't know what kind of girl I am" -- really leaves an impact, and it's at that point that the movie really starts for me. There is a heart thumping underneath all the snark and pop culture nods, and just about any other writer or director would've shoehorned in a couple of weepy monologues or El Kabong-ed the point home with syrupy, melodramatic strings. Juno instead opts to lean back and let its actors act, and it packs a pretty hefty emotional wallop. Maybe I'm risking what marginal Movie Reviewer Cred I have by admitting this, but to spout off one quick example, one of the last shots in the movie -- without any of the cast even in the frame -- almost got me all teary-eyed. It's sweet, dammit!

Cody's script is a lot more keen on dialogue and keeping the plot zipping forward than anything else, and once you plow past Juno and Mark, most of the characters' personalities seem to owe a lot more to the cast than the screenplay. That's okay, though. Ellen Page is pitch-perfect in the title role, and she reminded me more than a little bit of Thora Birch in Ghost World. Juno's sweeter and not remotely as cynical as Enid Coleslaw, yeah, but both characters have a tendency to take advantage of the awkward fellas in their lives, both of 'em hide their soft, vulnerable underbellies under a fluffy blanket of sarcasm and retro kitsch, and they both seem kind of out of step with the world around them. Page draws Juno as a flawed but really likeable character -- pulling off the snarkiness, that endearing emotional core she keeps tucked away, and the off-kilter rhythm and wording of Cody's dialogue -- and it's hard to imagine anyone else stepping into those tiny shoes.

Being an Arrested Development fanboy and all, it's a bit of a geeked-out rush to see Michael Cera and Jason Bateman have the limelight aimed in their general direction again, even if the Bluth boys don't actually have any scenes together. Bleeker's just supposed to seem like an awkward, uncomfortable doormat, so it's a part pretty much tailor-made for Michael Cera. Bateman grabs hold of what's probably my favorite role in the movie, a guy who's settled into married tedium and is still reaching for the glory days that left him behind a decade and a half back. I've run into so many couples like Mark and his sweetly domineering wife Vanessa that their quietly tense relationship really doesn't require any disbelief to be lugged around and suspended. Lotsa praise to go around for Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons as Juno's initially disappointed but altogether supportive parents. It's nice to see that there really isn't a bad guy in Juno. At worst, its characters are overly self-involved, but everyone's at least kind of sympathetic, and that goes for Janney as Juno's stepmom too.

The tricky part about throwing together this sort of write-up for Juno is making sure you review the movie and not the deafening buzz that was inescapable for so many months on end. I think the pre-release hype heavily skewed expectations for some, setting folks up for some sort of earth-shattering experience that'd forever redefine the art of something or another and cause them to be born unto new cinematic worlds where a preggers 16 year old is their key, but that's not what Juno sets out to pull off. It's just a clever, sweet, and really well-acted movie with a loudly pounding heart and a skewed sense of humor. I would say that Juno's an acquired taste, but...y'know, raking in a couple hundred million bucks at the box office would seem to shut that theory down. Whatever. I dig Juno, and I'm the one writing this review, so: Recommended.

Video: For some reason, I went in expecting this Blu-ray disc to sport more of a rough-hewn indie look, but Juno turned out pretty slick in high-def. This 1.85:1 AVC encode is colorful, smooth, and sharp, and the faint trace of film grain lurking in the background thankfully hasn't been smeared away. Juno's fresh out of theaters, so it kinda goes without saying that there aren't any specks or gashes anywhere on this transfer, and I couldn't spot any compression hiccups either. Fine detail and black levels are both rock solid as well. We're not talking about something as dazzling as Live Free or Die Hard or some other glossy flick with oodles of zeroes on the balance sheet, no, but I'm happy as a clam (or a scallop or an oyster or a...) with the way Juno turned out on Blu-ray.

Audio: Juno's sound design is anchored around its dialogue and a couple fistfuls of acoustic numbers, but even though the movie's not all that demanding, it's always nice to see Fox take the whole lossless audio route anyway. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack -- or at least, its lossy core, since that's all I'm able to give a listen right now -- is weighted front and center. Diablo Cody's hyperstylized dialogue is rooted in the center channel and comes through all sparkling and crystal clear. Kimya Dawson's downbeat acoustic soundtrack spreads out across the other speakers and sounds reasonably full-bodied. The music every once in a while coaxes a little support from the subwoofer, and a couple scattered moments like Juno's overwhelming sense of overwhelm-ment in the Women First clinic make pretty effective use of all of the channels on hand. Overall, though, it's a low-key mix, not fat-packed with split surrounds or foundation-threatening low frequency effects. Juno sounds pretty much exactly the way it ought to, so...no gripes.

If your rig can't tackle DTS-HD MA or if you aren't so much with the sprechen-ing of sie Englisch, Fox has packed on Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in English, French, and Spanish. Subtitle streams are served up in English and Spanish.

Extras: Lotsa stuff. None of the bells and whistles are in high-def, no, but there's plenty to sift through.

First up is an audio commentary with director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, and it's my favorite of the two scoops of extras on this set. This is just a breezy, upbeat commentary from two people who clearly dig hanging around each other. Reitman drives the discussion, running through a bunch of the stuff that had to be created for the movie (everything from underwear to prosthetic pork sword-balls to a Tic-Tac cannon), the production design, and even the mindset behind a few specific camera angles. There are a bunch of great notes: an early draft of the script dropped Juno into Catholic school, Reitman ditched a shot-for-shot homage to his pop's Animal House and accidentally got Jennifer Garner tipsy on wine in one emotionally strained scene, Michael Cera was plucking away on a guitar between shots and wound up in a montage without him realizing it...just a really fun, really well put together track. And yeah, it's got your 96 minute film school in there, and I feel like I skipped away quite a bit smarter. You can't sniff a condom on-camera and score a PG-13. If you want to pretend to hang a petite twentysomething actress with a licorice rope noose, you can't just buy something off the shelf. I was reminded that it's "PicturePages", not "Picture Pages". (Sorry, Mr. Cosby.) Definitely worth a listen.

Reitman and Cody also chime in with optional commentary for twenty minutes' worth of deleted scenes. These extra snippets of footage include a quick chat with Juno's slightly racist neighbor puttering around on her Rascal, longer introductions to pretty much the entire supporting cast, just about everyone strumming away on guitar (including Juno, live at a party!), mailbox baseball, a where-are-they-now followup with Mark, and an extended heart to heart in Bleeker's bedroom. Reitman and Cody's commentary is a lot meatier than just muttering "this was cut for pacing" the way a lot of these things usually go, down to a note how MTV's Cribs is the National Geographic of these modern times.

There's a five minute gag reel teeming with a bunch of apologies, uncontrollable fits of laughter, and a couple hundred thousand blown lines. Something like half of its runtime has Ellen trying desperately to find out why no one's throwing Vanessa a baby shower. Also on the extra-with-gag-in-the-title tip is a gag take (2 min.) with Rainn Wilson trying to show Jason Reitman that he's been at this game long enough to know how to lift a couple of sprocking grocery bags. Pretty much everyone on both sides of the camera during the shoot bounds around to OK Go's "Do What You Want" on the crew music video (3 min.).

One particularly spiffy extra is a 23 minute set of screen tests, shot with the actors against a black backdrop. They run through eight scenes in total, and some of them feature dialogue that's a good bit different than what made it into the finished film. It spills out in Juno's "I'm preggers" call to Leah that this isn't exactly the first time she was sexually active, f'r instance. Bleeker awkwardly starts gabbing about microwavable croissant material when the news is broken in his general direction. A couple of the conversations between Juno and Mark run a little longer here too. It's kind of neat to give this a spin right after watching the movie -- so much of Cody's dialogue is intact word-for-word, and it's interesting to see just how few nips and tucks were made and how much those tiny changes really do stand out.

"Way Beyond 'Our' Maturity Level" devotes pretty much all of its 9 minute runtime to the characters of Juno, Leah, and Bleeker along with the actors who played 'em. I really dug those characters-slash-actors too, so I don't mind this sort of happy-love-fest featurette even if there isn't all that much in the way of insight churning underneath. One note I did find kind of intriguing is that Michael Cera was so eerily close to the real-life whipping boy Diablo Cody kinda-sorta-tormented in high school that she found some of these scenes painful to watch.

...and I guess I can use that to segue right into "Diablo Cody Is Totally Boss" (9 min.), which runs through how a producer stumbled onto Cody's stripper-blog experiment and prodded her to write a screenplay. Reitman and the rest of the main cast touch on their first reactions to the script; Juno's once and future director even compares reading Cody's distinctively quirky dialogue to hearing jazz for the first time. Reitman also notes how he took the unconventional step of keeping the screenwriter around during the shoot, what with him not ever having been a 16 year old girl before and all. Oh, and the director gets his very own embarrassingly titled featurette too. "Jason Reitman for Shizz" (8 min.) opens by pointing out how hard he lobbied for this directing gig, how much time and effort went into building a grounded, believable world for Juno, and his close collaboration with Cody.

"Honest to Blog! Creating Juno" (13 min.) feels a little more EPK-esque, anchored once again around Reitman and Cody while also giving the key actors a chance to briefly chime in. One topic it tackles is how Reitman and so much of his cast squirted out kids shortly before cameras rolled, and he believes that fresh-in-their-minds childbirth really worked in the movie's favor. They also chat about what went into putting together a few particularly memorable scenes. Last up are two promotional bits from the Fox Movie Channel, the first of which (5 min.) catches up with the cast on the red carpet as they plug Juno in between a bunch of clips from the movie. Finally, a 'casting session' featurette (8 min.) starts off by noting how tricky a movie this was to cast, along with Reitman talking about how much he wanted Page in the lead role and how he's not so much a fan of the audition process. After that, though, there's not all that much in the way of insight, and the comments tend to be pretty short and superficial.

Same as the last big stack of Fox day-'n-dates, Juno includes a second disc with a couple of digital copies of the movie for easy transfer to PCs and iPods.

Conclusion: Shrug off the megadecibel buzz and take Juno for what it is: a quirky indie comedy with a great cast, a skewed sense of humor, and a sugary sweet underbelly. Nah, it doesn't live up to the hype -- and geez, what could? -- but I still really dug Juno. Fox has put together a pretty slick package for the movie on Blu-ray, so...yeah. I'll go with an emboldened, italicized Recommended.

Y'know, those are just promotional stills scattered around this review to liven up the layout. They're not supposed to reflect what the movie looks like on Blu-ray, but you already know that.
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