Sunday, February 10, 2008

Juno; The Way Comedies Should Be Done

"Juno" should be the textbook case on how comedies should be done. The film is nothing like your typical American comedy. Somehow comedies from Hollywood seems to get made in either a ridiculous "Dumb and Dumber" style slapstick mode or turn out to be overly sentimental pieces of drivel like "You've Got Mail". What is it in Hollywood that keeps assaulting the intelligence of their audience by making films about two guys pretending to be gay in order to get a green card or trying to awe us with little pigtailed blond girls who help their single dad trying to figure out which one of his three hot dates he's supposed to marry. Part is of course audiences who'll gladly pay to get their intelligence insulted, but there also seems to be an unwillingness to take risks with less "glamorous" scripts. "Juno" is one of those few rare occasions where one of those risks slips through the cracks. What ordinarily would have been an art house film was rather heavily promoted, at least over here, and wound up in those large multi screen movie theaters in front of pop corn chomping and soda slurping audiences. The main strength of "Juno" is the every day sense of the script. In short the film is about a sixteen year old girl who decides she likes Bleeker, a dorky kid from school she somehow finds very cool. Juno makes love to Bleeker in an old scruffy chair, becomes pregnant and tries to find a way to deal with it by giving it up to adoption. Though a premise like this could have been turned into another pie in the face teen comedy, Juno remains a remarkable sober piece of comedy. Al the more remarkable considering director Jason Reitman is the son of "Twins" and Kindergarten Cop" director Ivan Reitman. After debuting with the sarcastic "Thank You For Not Smoking" Jason manages to steer "Juno" in to movie gem haven.

Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody apparently realize something very important about comedy. Namely that "everyday" tragedies or events can be funny enough. Humor feeds on the power of recognition. It is often our own stupidity that makes us laugh, no matter how tragic the results of those stupidities. Of course "Juno" deals with a very serious subject matter, the problem of teen pregnancies. But because the film doesn't moralize it allows us to gain some sense of understanding of how these pregnancies come about and laugh heartily at its difficult implications. Humor as a way to deal with life's sometimes harsh realities. Ellen Page plays Juno as a normal teenage girl. A bit of the odd ball in the class. You know the kind, pretty but not in an obvious kind of way. The type of girl that has a hamburger phone in her room because its totally cool and is into Iggy Pop and Patti Smith. Bands people twice her age are even to young for to have seen them in their prime, yet Juno can honestly claim that "you've had to be there to understand what I'm talking about". Her boyfriend Bleeker is played in an evenly common way by Michael Cera. According to Juno he is cool and he doesn't even have to try. Like all teenagers they think they are as adult as they ever going get yet totally clueless how to deal with this "thing of me". Juno is as playful and innocent as you'd expect a kid in kindergarten to be, yet has that distinct teen smartness or rather, a coyness over her. Juno is still completely oblivious to others around her.

It is that coyness that keeps the movie light and breezy, that makes you laugh out loud at matters that have serious implications. In a sense "Juno" reminded me of Ghost World" with the veneer of sarcasm and nihilism removed. "Juno" is having a pretty normal happy youth with all the normal pains of growing up and lives in your average loving yet dysfunctional family. The type of surrounding we all grew up in, if we're lucky. Yet normal as it all is the film has enough tension to keep you focussed. Will Juno keep the baby in the end is one of those thoughts that runs through your mind while watching the movie, will she and Bleeker get together again is another. There's no dramatic conclusion to Juno, even though there is resolve. And that's enough. I suspect a comedy like Juno is not easily recreated, but judging from how well it went over to the pop corn chomping crowd, I hope Hollywood will try a little harder on films like "Juno".

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