29 Days of Romance, Review #12: Juno (2007)

29 Days of Romance, Review #12: Juno (2007)
Juno poster
IMDb

Directed by: Jason Reitman. Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner. Runtime: 1h 34 min. Released: December 25, 2007.

For my 29 Days of Romance series, these films are all new watches for me but Juno is really one I’ve always wanted to watch. I’m glad that I found a movie from my watchlist that I liked, because I just loved Juno. (Maybe this is because the romance is secondary. I put it in this series because I could have sworn ‘romance’ was a sub-genre, but apparently it’s just comedy/drama on IMDb… Anyway.)

While I could see why Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris won Best Original Screenplay in its respective Oscar year (2012), I didn’t love it. For the 2008 Oscar year, Diablo Cody’s screenplay for Juno is really deserving of the win. When there’s a line like “they call me a cautionary whale,” that’s a winner.

The film follows the spectacularly offbeat Juno (Ellen Page), a 16-year-old girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. She finds the perfect couple in the PennySaver, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) to adopt her child.

Besides Diablo Cody’s pitch perfect writing that balances funny moments and tear-jerking moments (especially in the third act), this film is also very well-directed by Jason Reitman. The performances he gets from his cast also makes the script shine. Ellen Page gives one of my favourite performances as Juno because the film is my kind-of quirky humour and Page plays it amazingly.

Michael Cera is also great as Paulie Bleeker, the baby’s father. He feels more like a supporting player because this is Juno’s story, and there are points throughout where he’s just not there. I liked the film a lot with him on-screen because the chemistry is good, but any romance is secondary.

Juno article
Ellen Page in Juno. (IMDb)

J.K. Simmons is a highlight as Juno’s father Mac MacGuff, and he’s my favourite kind-of movie Dad that cracks offbeat jokes and just seems natural and hilarious without even really trying (like Stanley Tucci in Easy A or Will Forte in Booksmart). Jason Bateman’s solid as Mark and he and Juno develop an interesting friendship throughout and their shared love of music is entertaining. By the way, the film’s soundtrack and indie tunes fits the tone and humour like a damn glove.

Jennifer Garner plays Vanessa very well, anxious that Juno might change her mind in giving them the baby because being a mom is what Vanessa has always wanted. The scene where Vanessa feels Juno’s stomach and feels the baby kick is one of the film’s best moments.

At times, Juno has a moment where she considers if what she is doing is the right thing to do, but the screenplay is never challenging in its subject matter of Juno wanting to keep the child. It’s not addressed as much as it could be, but I think that’s fine. Juno’s a sweet and heartwarming comedy that’s more interested in zingy one-liners, sharp dialogue and orange Tic Tac’s than serious conversation. That doesn’t take away from the entertainment value, but you’re not expecting hard-hitting seriousness when there’s a scene that Juno uses a hamburger phone to call about an abortion.

When the film does get closer to serious, there’s still humour. This scene is at one of Juno’s ultrasounds where the technician judges Juno for her teen pregnancy and is relieved she’s giving it up for adoption, as she doesn’t think she can take care of the child. It leans into that conversation but is also strong in its humour when Juno’s stepmom Bren (Allison Janney) stands up for Juno. It’s one of the best character moments in the film for me and another great supporting performance from Janney. Juno’s friend Leah is also a good presence in this film, played by a strong Olivia Thirlby.

I won’t pretend to know anything about teen pregnancy and if this is a realistic depiction of it, but Juno feels real as a character as she uses humour to deflect her situation. When she is more human and let’s her guard down, Page sells it. Her quirkiness is charming and it’s never obnoxious. We spend the perfect amount of time with Juno and it’s a film I’d already love to revisit.

Score: 90/100

Labor Day (2013)

Labor DayReleased: January 31, 2014. Directed by: Jason Reitman. Starring: Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith. Runtime: 111 min.

Warning: If you don’t want to know a lot about the film before seeing this, there might be more minor spoilers in this review than my usual review. But I guess there’s always that spoiler risk when reading a review. Anyway, enjoy! 

Jason Reitman’s newest film “Labor Day” is set in 1987 in a town with a lot of nice landscapes. It follows Adele (Kate Winslet), a depressed single mother who has been divorced for a few years now. She’s both depressed about the divorce and about the fact that she feels as if she has lost love forever. Her depression has gotten so bad that she only goes out of the house for a monthly trip to Price Mart. Her son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) is starting 7th grade on Tuesday and he needs a new shirt, and they might as well do their supplies run. It doesn’t go as planned when Henry runs into a wounded man (Frank, portrayed by Josh Brolin) who menacingly yet not-so menacingly demands a ride to their house. He ends up being an escaped convict – ruh roh! As police search the town for him, he takes refuge in their home and the mother and son learn his story while their options become increasingly limited.

There’s tons of drama and some suspense sprinkled on each day in an attempt to keep everyone interested. The suspense is practically just a lot of people visiting (especially for someone who’s practically a recluse!) in a town where the people can be perceived as helpful or really freaking nosy. Some of them don’t even knock before they come in. That’s inconvenient for someone who has a fugitive in their home. Since the suspense is so simplistic, and the story is so simplistic and predictable (for the first two-thirds, at least), it only rarely increases the heart’s bpm. To add to the drama and the attempted suspense, this is a cheesy romantic flick, extra cheese.

The depressed Adele sees Frank as a chance to love again. You know, because it’s statistically proven that Stockholm’s syndrome is nicest on labour day. Those leaves are just so dang romantic! And don’t get me started on the peaches! Oh the peaches! A kind neighbor (J.K. Simmons) brings by a whole basket of peaches and they can’t eat them all! They’re only three people; so what do they do? They bake a peach pie! The way Jason Reitman directs the scene with Brolin directing Winslet’s shaking hands running through the peaches is horribly reminiscent of that pottery scene in 1990’s “Ghost.” When it’s with pottery it’s okay, but when you’re guiding someone’s hand mixing peaches up, it’s getting silly. It’s not as awful as the scene where Brolin feeds Winslet some beans, though. Winslet has to be fed because she is tied up, because Brolin is still a big bad kidnapper.

Come on guys, it's baking time!
Come on guys, it’s baking time!

Brolin portrays a relatively kind character, for someone who was convicted for murder. We see his crime through flashbacks that are randomly shown throughout the film; it’s not as if it’s shown and then right after he’s waking up from a nightmare, and it’s not like he’s sitting down Adele and Henry and telling them what happened.

Frank teaches Henry how to do things that a father figure teaches their son. It’s nice that Frank tries to be a father figure, but it’s just a weird situation with so much attempted sweetness shoe-horned in here. Personally, I see Frank as one of those stepfather figures I’d want the hell out of my house.

I’ve bagged on this film a lot so far, so here are some things I liked about this. I enjoyed this one incredibly random character named Evelyn (I had to look that up because I don’t think they actually say her name in the movie) looked her up; she befriends Henry, and she’s just comic relief on random days. Tobey Maguire’s narration is also good; I think he has a good, calming narrative voice. Another good thing about the film are the performances; I think the actors are talented, but just acting in a different, but very strange film where the basic emotions are anxiety and depression in the beginning, and things get more inspiring and sensitive as it goes along. It’s always welcome to have these bursts of enjoyment in a slow-moving, bland snoozefest.

You might like it, but since I am not all that familiar with Reitman’s style, I could have easily confused this for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. Yep, it’s one of those. Since we know love is such a sweet thing, there’s not much use for a flick like this. There are a few things I took from the film, though: 1) If you go to Price Mart often enough, you’ll pick up someone who’s a pretty good handymad; and 2) You learn a tip if you ever harbour a fugitive: You should keep him inside and not play sports with him in the backyard or do chores in the front yard; because it defeats the meaning of hiding someone.

Score: 40/100