Basic Plot: Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a high school student who impulsively has sex with her good friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) and winds up pregnant. She decides to keep the baby and give it away to a foster couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Meanwhile she deals with the pregnancy itself and her turbulent relationship with Paulie.


I'm going to go on a limb and say that sometimes movies shouldn't try to do too much. Sometimes they should stick to one style or genre, because the writing, acting, or production may not be strong enough. Simplicity, or at least condensation, is not the bane of movie making. This does not mean movies should be lazy, but if you're trying to squash two very different stories or styles or emotions into one film, you better pull it off. 


And before the accusations start to spray, I love when a movie does indeed pull this off. Probably the best example of this is the highly underrated American Psycho which works supremely well as a horror flick, hysterical comedy, and blast-from-the-past nostalgia trip. Rush Hour was an effective action/comedy. The BBC Pride and Prejudice was a period piece with plenty of social commentary and a romance as well. These movies all did a great job mixing the styles because the shift in tone, or in writing, was done smoothly. It never felt like the film cut sharply to something different. It was never awkward. When you genre-bend like this, you have to be consistently aware of the movie as a whole. Does it feel incomplete?   Is one aspect of the movie far superior to the other? Doing this is like cooking Thanksgiving dinner by yourself. You have to handle multiple tasks, and if you don't have the chops for it, you'll wind up burning the turkey.


Juno, in this regard, does attempt to be a couple films in one. One the one hand, it is an emotionally driven, personal struggle with pregnancy and relationships. One the other, it's a quirky, colorful, hipster comedy with lots of quips and rapidfire dialogue. Unfortunately, one of these parts is worlds better than the other. 


Again, I am not criticizing the film because it isn't American Psycho. I brought up the genre-bending theme to illustrate how it's quite difficult to go for various emotional tones in one film. So ignoring all else, Juno,  as a standalone film, does not pull it off. And you may be surprised to hear this through the over-glamorized reviews from critics who inexplicably salivated over this film, the strong point of this film is the drama, not the comedy.


Every line of this script that is supposed to be witty comes off as lame and trying way too hard. Even Juno's last name, MacGuff, is a fairly obvious play on the word MacGuffin, which in the entertainment industry means a device in the story that serves to do nothing but fill gaps. Oh, my sides.


Whether it's Juno's hamburger phone, completely random expressions like "fertile myrtle," or the Juno's comments on the track team that runs circles around her neighborhood, the script is throwing every quirky thing it can at the audience in the hopes that some will stick. Good comedies poke you in the ribs. They build up tension and then hit you with a hilarious scene. Like 40 Year Old Virgin or the classic When Harry Met Sally. This doesn't do that. This movie doesn't poke, it breaks a pool stick over your head and continues to beat on you until you surrender to it. After every "joke," or "witty" line, there's this small, awkward pause, like they're expecting the audience to burst out laughing and subside just in time for the next line. If you enjoy overly quirky dialogue that makes no sense, then this will probably work for you. But if you are not laughing, if you see this movie as trying too hard, you'll sit through this jokes and awkward silences and after an hour the movie will really wear on you. To me, Juno is the epitome of a bad standup comic who's act quickly fails, and he becomes increasingly more frustrated and desperate to get laughs until he trots dejectedly off the stage.


But like I said, the comedy may work for you. It certainly did for many people. But it didn't for me. It's too forced and random and it's simply not how people talk. You need to drape your comedy in some realism. Now, you could compare this to Pulp Fiction in the sense that the characters use expressions you normally wouldn't hear. But it works in that film. One, the lines are actually witty and smoother than silk. And two, the film is very retro. It's like the events are taken place in a different time, even a parallel universe. Juno is clearly supposed to be modern day, complete with realistic issues than teens face. So you need to bring some reality to your jokes. Otherwise, it's like we're watching idiots or aliens or both.


The drama, however, excels every time the movie attempts it. This is largely in thanks to the subplot of Mike and Vanessa Loring. Jason Bateman does a fine job playing Mike in the sense that he's likeable but a bit sketchy as well. But it's Jennifer Garner who really shocked me. Her performance as a woman so devoted to children, so concerned that she may not be the perfect mother she sets out to be, is so genuine I want to know where she was hiding this performance all these years. Ellen Page as Juno also succeeds during these scenes, especially in a critical scene when she's sobbing in a car. I have to say, Page is a good crier. And not only that, any other scenes where her character is actually going through some pitfall, Page emotes perfectly. When she is doubtful or angry or terrified she nails it. It's just a shame the script subjects her to useless quips that she delivers without any emotion, conviction, humor, or joy. The actors even look annoyed having to read some of these lines. It know it's supposed to be deadpan. But where it works in Wes Anderson films, it doesn't work here. It's too random, too silly. It feels like a zany TV sitcom that gets canceled after two seasons. 


Comedy and drama aside, the script is also weak in terms of the plot. Toward the end of the film, the script needs some kind of resolution between Paulie and Juno, a relationship that is rather weakly portrayed in the film. Perhaps it just feels like not much weight is given to this almost-couple because as Paulie, Michael Cera has absolutely no presence on the screen. He's useless, with barely a pocketful of personality. To compensate for this, the movie gives him a quirk and makes him addicted to Tic-Tacs. Why? Because this script is crap. As I mentioned, it tries to resolve these two characters who have a relationship that is rocky when the movie actually decides to focus on it. How does the script do this? Juno has a two minute conversation with her father and decides that she loves Paulie and so the two of them play guitar together and presumably live happily ever after. This ending is so rushed and unconvincing I wouldn't be surprised if the screenwriter got to the end of the script and realized, oh shit, I totally forgot about Paulie. Let's make Juno fall in love then. Boom! Dynamite.


Also, this screenwriter is a complete hypocrite. He uses a MacGuffin joke in Juno's name, yet ends up creating a MacGuffin himself without realizing it: the pregnancy. As I mentioned before, a MacGuffin is a device there to simply fill gaps and further the plot, and in this movie, that's the pregnancy. We as an audience never see Juno actually struggle with the pregnancy outside of comments like "I look funny naked." It seems to be the easiest thing in the world for her to deal with, and the real struggle is her dealing with Paulie and the foster couple. I know you're trying to do something different, but if your movie is about pregnancy, than you should probably focus a little bit more on the pregnancy. The pregnancy in this movie could have be replaced with almost anything else, and the script, or at least the comedy and some of the drama, would be completely unaffected. She could have won the lottery. She could be paralyzed. She could have crabs. She could be addicted to crack. She could become a Youtube sensation. Any of these things could be substituted for "pregnancy" and it would have worked for most of the film. And that's the biggest problem with the script: the drama, and real earth of the story, is unrelated to the comedy. If you combine two genres, if you want to make a comedy-drama, they need to work hand in hand. At least make some of the jokes have to do with pregnancy, because I truly felt that the film forgot that Juno was carrying a child 


Does every pregnancy film have to be the same? Of course not. But if your film is trying to show the comedy of a pregnancy, then at least make it funny, and make it the jokes play off the plot. Because otherwise the films feels like the screenwriter wrote all the jokes on napkins years before he even started writing the script and then found them in a drawer somewhere and thought, hey.....I can use these. Yet for some reason a shitty, unfunny, inconsistent script with more holes than a seive like this can win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, so I just don't know what was in the water that year.


And this film is so for me too. I like Ellen Page. I like movies that mix genres. I like deadpan dialogue. I like animated opening credits. I didn't even get bothered than how the soundtrack sounded like the same song on repeat. But what I don't like are bad jokes and a stupid script. So even with impressive dramatic elements, about two-thirds of this movie is amateur hour at a college improv. You cannot rise above terrible writing, as hard as you try. And while Juno gets a few gasps of air above the surface, by the finale it runs out of breath and sinks, drowning, to the bottom. So if you want to see a funny movie about an unplanned pregnancy, I'd reccomend you finish reading this review, go to Redbox and pick up a nice, fresh copy of Knocked Up.



What Could Have Saved It: Either focus on the drama, or make the comedy funny


Rating: 4/10



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