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

Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven
Source
Released: March 16, 2016. Directed by: Patricia Riggen. Starring: Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson. Runtime: 1hr 49 min.

Thank you, Miracles from Heaven, for finally showing me why I haven’t been thoroughly entertained while going to church all these years.

It’s because there’s never been a Christian rock band at my church to get me in the spirit of things. Apparently they have all the fun in small Texas towns.

Miracles from Heaven, based on the memoir by Christy Beam, follows the Beam family in Burleson, Texas, as the 10-year-old daughter, Annabel (Kylie Rogers) is diagnosed with a rare digestive disorder for which there is no cure.

The family prays for a miracle and it gets answered in a big and rather bizarre way. If it wasn’t a true story, it would be pretty far-fetched, but I won’t spoil it here in case you haven’t seen the trailer. The film is really about the journey and perseverance throughout the disease, and her mom Christy’s (Jennifer Garner) perseverance into getting Ana the best help available.

Garner is great as the mom in an emotionally powerful performance – crying her way through the film, but doing so in a believable way. She may cross the line of crying one too many times – as it seems like she could have filled a Jacuzzi with her tears. Kylie Rogers as Ana also holds her own very well.

The power is in the characterization, as well, and the fact that the pain her daughter is going through makes Christy question her faith. There’s a laughable moment where people at her Church ask if Ana hasn’t been cured yet because of the family’s sins. It’s laughable for me, but evidently not for Christy.

Anyway, faith is a big thing touched on the film, to a point where it is, admittedly, preachy, but not in the same proselytizing way God’s Not Dead is – trying to force the beliefs down its audience’s throat. That’s the difference between God’s Not Dead’s really bad writing and the fact-based writing of Miracles from Heaven that goes between melodrama and some strong heartbreaking and emotional moments.

Miracles from Heaven1
Queen Latifah, Kylie Rogers and Jennifer Garner in Miracles from Heaven. (Source)
There’s really just something works about this movie by the end of it all. It’s charming and Eugenio Derbez is amusing as Dr. Nurko and balances entertaining Ana and being a serious doctor dude well, even while wearing an Elmo tie. Queen Latifah is also quite a welcome player in the film, adding a lot of humour.

Martin Henderson is a good supporting player as Ana’s father, he adds a sense of optimism to the film, actually thinking everything will be okay. There’s a lot of money troubles since he’s started a new animal clinic business and they had to put all of the home’s equity into it.

That adds a new element to the film. He’s working and taking care of his two other daughters, the youngest Adelynn (Courtney Fansler), and the oldest daughter Abbie (Brighton Sharbino, TV’s The Walking Dead). They don’t get as much characterization as Ana or Christy, which is okay since those two are the core, but there could have been a bit more effort to make the supporting players have more dimensions.

The film’s cinematography is strong, and the sequences in Heaven look nice – there are a lot of bright colours and lots of butterflies. It looks unique enough, basking in outdoor settings instead of a Church like in Heaven is for Real. The two films share producers T.D. Lakes, Joe Roth and Derrick Williams.

I think this was more effectively handled having the miraculous happening a bit after the halfway mark instead of Colton Burpo in Heaven is For Real having his near-death experience at the beginning. That film’s main conflict was the skepticism of it – but this has a more natural conflict of a longer lasting disease. The skepticism is touched on really just once in Miracles from Heaven and then is forgotten with one of the film’s most moving moments.

I did like the aspect of the film that suggested miracles aren’t always huge, but can sometimes be found in simple kindnesses. The film has a good soundtrack and the Beam family is an inspiration. It’s feel-good throughout, particularly so in the last 25 minutes, which was the film’s strongest area. The journey there takes long, but the pay-off is great.

Score: 70/100

 

 

 

 

Draft Day (2014)

Draft DayReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Patrick St. Esprit. Runtime: 109 min.

Kevin Costner stars in Draft Day, the NFL’s answer to Moneyball. He portrays fictional General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr., as he goes through the motions of a generic, off-the-field sports drama. The story follows him on a stressful day: draft day. On this day, many college hopefuls are drafted into the NFL. To express the anticipation of the day, there’s a countdown to the televised event on the screen. Those who don’t like this movie can also use it as a way to estimate how much longer they’ll be in the theatre.

What may give this film a bit more punch is if it were based on a true story. This just feels too much like a commercial flick for the NFL and ESPN. I have nothing against sports dramas that aren’t true, at least if the fiction on-screen is noteworthy. This film is not bad, it just might be better to watch something that will matter history-wise. Football fans might find a stronger merit in this film. During, the pessimist inside me wondered if Ivan Reitman could make the draft day exciting. He does, working suspense into the finale, which is the strongest stretch of the film. It gives the movie more life, and makes it something more than just lightly entertaining. Prior to it, humour and a charming cast make the light entertainment run at a brisk pace.

Director Ivan Reitman tells this drama with style. There’s a main editing style used when characters are on the phone. Sonny will be on one side of the screen, and the person he’s talking to on the other side. Sometimes their arms will go on the other person’s side of the screen. It’s cool because it looks like they’re in the room together, but this effect also shows how much people talk on the phone. It’s a funny contrast to teens who would just text each other if they want to make a trade for their NFL fantasy draft. I’ve literally seen my brother do this so maybe one of the reasons he enjoyed this film is that he can relate to the stresses of having to get a good team together. Some food for thought: are fantasy drafts and this movie NFL draft really that different in this case? This film has fictional football players who have decent backstories, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the longrun, as far as history goes. Same as fantasy drafts, or maybe Madden video games would work better for my argument; if you have one player on your roster for the Cleveland Browns – that doesn’t mean they’re really going to be playing for the Browns in real life.

Anyway, about the characters. Jennifer Garner portrays a pretty exec who manages the salary cap for the Browns. She’s also in a relationship with Costner’s Weaver. He plays the character with charm. Weaver’s ass is on the line because he’s been general manager of the Browns for two seasons, and he hasn’t been leading the team to many victories. If he doesn’t do a good job this year, the city will request his head, so to speak. Sonny is a character living under his father’s shadow. He is the loved, recently deceased coach of the Browns, Sonny Weaver Senior. Junior has people in his ear all day telling him who to pick for the team, so they can be victorious. The film has a message of following you heart and doing what you think is best. This seems like a realistic portrayal of the job of a general manager on draft day. The generic characters in this off-the-field underdog story are likable enough to make viewers root for them to pull out a win. In this, there’s a deeper exploration of trying to differentiate personal and professional life. There’s a sub-plot that’s irritating. Sonny’s mother wants to spread the ashes of her deceased husband today, of all days. She could simply wait one day, but it’s too urgent as it is. It feels too uninspired to contribute to the story very much.

Draft Day has some interesting aspects. The assistants of Sonny spend hours looking for weaknesses of players they want for their team. If you know that weakness and no one else does, that’s an advantage. It’s entertaining to see these managers play mind games with each other and have different strategies of how to get really good players. These strategies are also ways to show some football playing (through archive footage of old games) in a film that largely takes place off-the-field. Draft Day shows that these type-of sports dramas have an okay future. They’re all right for those who enjoy easy viewings, but not usually as good as on-the-field sports films. This is just a harmless film that has good intentions, but ends up being average. You might be better off watching the real 2014 draft.

Score58/100

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers ClubReleased: November 22, 2013. Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto. Runtime: 117 min.

I haven’t seen many films about the AIDS disease, but one can sure tell it’s dealt with sensitively here by director Jean-Marc Vallée. Humour is able to be written into the screenplay because of the charming cast and the characters’ personalities.

The film follows real-life electrician and occasional bull rider Ron Woodroof, a stereotypical redneck who is racist and homophobic. His lifestyle consists of drinking, gambling, drug use, and casual sex. While in the hospital because of a work-related injury, Ron finds out he is HIV positive. Denial strikes and his homophobic personality makes him lash out at the doctor, since it is a disease that (mostly) homosexuals get. He is given thirty days to live. It turns out, he contracts the disease from unprotected sex. (Cloak the joker before you poke her!) In 1985, the drug called AZT that treats AIDS is still in clinical trials – so he has to get the drug somehow under the table. He learns from a doctor in Mexico that other medicines do the trick better than AZT, and this is his story of how he helps other people with AIDS to get better.

In 1985, the cure for AIDS was still trying to be found, so this is an ideal year for the film to be set in. The way hospitals went about testing the drug AZT for human trials is where HIV patients approved for the drug were divided into two groups. One group received the legitimate drug, while the other group received a placebo drug. It’s a little ethically questionable because the patients receiving either one of the drugs are dying, so… Some might be getting better, and the others are getting sugar pills. I guess it’s the only way to tell if it works. For the patients who are simply getting sugar pills, that’s where Ron Woodroof comes in. He offers the people of Dallas diagnosed with HIV a membership to the Dallas Buyers Club, where for $400 they can have access for all of the medication they need. The reason the hospitals are so frustrated with Woodroof is because the people taking the medication aren’t being monitored, and there’s no way to tell if they’d work or not. They’re filled with nutrients and proteins that help make more cells in the immune system.

Though, the film isn’t a boring pharmaceutical film, so that’s really good. I think the storytelling is very capable because mostly it is telling an inspiring and great story. Jennifer Garner’s Eve represents the doctors of the medical community understand Ron’s motivations to help people and himself. I think the way Ron opens up to the homosexual community is very charming. He’s an innovative and smart character, and McConaughey plays him so powerfully and with ease. But that’s not saying his body transformation to play the role wasn’t easy. It also musn’t have been easy for this actor to do the full actor transformation from rom-com star to full-fledged actor. It’s a great turn-around, and he’s becoming one of my favourites – where he plays a character who lives life to the fullest, and enjoys a new outlook on life.

McConaughey opens up to the community by doing business with them, but mostly by befriending a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto). They become business partners and friends, and the way Ron’s eyes are opened is beautiful. Homophobia is also depicted well and powerfully throughout the film, and often heartbreakingly. One can tell that Rayon has lived through a lot of discrimination, especially in one scene that I won’t spoil. It seems that there’s always been some controversy of Hollywood casting males in transsexual roles. I think that’s what might make the role so challenging for Leto, to let himself get enveloped by the role of Rayon, a flamboyant and hilarious character. But he absolutely nails the role. Most of the stuff coming out of Ray’s mouth made me smile, even if he has frustrating habits.

There’s a sort-of kindness to the character of Ron, where he wants to give medication to the people so they can survive and also live their life to the fullest. Even though many will struggle living a normal life with the unfortunate disease. In a film about survival, I think he represents those who can change over time. This great film also shows some of the most innovative ways to change society is by going under the law; and sometimes, it’s just a necessary thing, no matter what people say.

Score95/100