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7 February 2008

Venus When She Smiles, Juno When She Walks, Minerva When She Talks

Quite different from 4 Months... is Juno, but then there was never any question of that, despite the fact that both are movies about young women who fall pregnant and don't want to keep the baby. Neither film moralises on the decision made by the respective characters - the point is not the choice but the consequences and inevitably, the very different circumstances of Juno and Gabita produce very different films and I really appreciated both, for pretty opposite reasons.

Juno, then, is a precocious, grounded and bitingly sharp 16-year-old who gets pregnant after sleeping with her best friend/on again-off again boyfriend, Paulie. Her first reaction (after three home pregnancy tests and a lot of Sunny D confirms the bad news) is the Big A but on the day she heads down to the clinic, she is intercepted by one of her classmates who is playing the role of stereotypical anti-abortion campaigner ("all babies want to get borned!") and on this occasion, the protest works and the images of tiny fingernails are implanted in Juno's mind and she knows she can't go through with it.

Plan B (no, not that Plan B; we know there was none of that here). She can't keep the kid and can't bring herself to have the abortion so the obvious solution is to check the classified ads for a couple, unable to have children, looking to adopt. Along come Mark and Vanessa, on the surface, the perfect rich, attractive, happy couple; all that is missing from their perfect lives is a baby. Vanessa, played by the gorgeous, fragile Jennifer Garner, blows hot and cold; it is obvious how much she really wants this baby but you have to wonder how much she really just wants to check off another box on her Great Life Plan (husband, job, house, nursery with gender-neutral walls...). Later on, we do see her playing with a kid at the mall and she is genuinely happy for the first time in the movie, so perhaps the baby isn't just a last-ditch attempt to save her seemingly perfect marriage from faltering.

The relationship between Juno and Vanessa is quite complex, mainly because they are so unequal. Juno is doing Vanessa this massive favour by carrying the child she so desperately wants but is unable to have. To Juno, though, she knows only that she can't keep the child and this is the most convenient option for everyone, although obviously, it's nice that she is doing this great thing for Vanessa and Mark too. Vanessa's nerves (she has been let down in this situation before) show through and she is often tense and overly cautious and tries too hard when Juno is just happy to go with the flow.

Things are not, however, what they seem. Mark is a composer (Like Bach? / More commercial. / Like what? / Like commercials.) and is most passionate when talking about music. He and Juno bond over guitars early on - in fact, this was probably the only thing that stopped Juno walking out of the house and out of the deal when the first meeting is somewhat awkward. He used to be a rocker and is obviously having regrets about selling out and settling down and seems almost bewildered by the life he has come to live (Juno, on Mark's music room: "She gave you... your own room in... in your whole house? For your... for your stuff? Wow, she's got you on a long leash, Mark.").

He is also clearly not sure he really wants to be a father. This only really comes out, though, when he and Juno bond over horror films and rock music:

Mark: ‘93. I’m telling you that was the best time for rock and roll.
Juno: Nuh-uh, 1977! Punk Volume 1! You weren’t there, so you can’t understand the magic.
Mark: You weren't even alive!

An unexpected bond forms between the two and there is a certain chemistry that almost surfaces on a couple of occasions. Juno finds herself showing up at his house with a new mix CD she has made him and the first song is the song he danced to at his senior prom in 1988 (which doesn't really add up given that he's probably mid to late 30s) and they dance briefly, mainly because they are both alone and somehow united by this huge physical bump between them, not to mention the huge emotional bump known as Vanessa. Juno does sometimes come across as rather naive and without an understanding of how certain parts of life work, but then this is probably only surprising because it's easy to forget that the girl is only 16 when she just takes everything in her stride, is always true to herself and just doesn't let the bastards get to her.

Anyway, the film then veers away from the adoptive parents and focuses back on Juno and on her relationship with her family and Paulie, which, inevitably, I found rather less interesting than the other sub-plot, but it isn't my film...

The above could all have been incredibly cheesy and/or emo but actually it was just hilarious. Yes, there were a few poignant moments but most of the audience were shrieking with laughter at the fantastic banter between Juno and her dad, Juno and her step-mom, Juno and...well, everyone! It's been a long time since I've seen such a funny film (witty rather than slapstick, of course) and it was a welcome relief to be able to laugh and to think - but not to have to think too hard or about too serious an issue. Ellen Page, who played Juno, did a great job and was beautiful and convincing throughout, so I guess my Oscar vote would be with her, even if that's only because I haven't seen any of the other nominees.

Hoorah for a smart, sharp, funny, fresh comedy that doesn't degenerate into an emofest or a farce!

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