'Juno' is the kind of movie that's not supposed to happen in Hollywood. In a land not known for originality or creativity, the fact that this unassuming sleeper could come out of nowhere and -- despite the lack big-name stars and subject matter all but certain to spell box office doom (a teenage pregnancy comedy!) -- still manage to gross well over $100 million at the box office is some kind of miracle. Although I don't think 'Juno' is the second coming of cinema as some have made it out to be (it's situations are a little too precious and the dialogue a bit too stylized for such lofty hosannas) it's so likeable, warm, and astute in its human observations that it's hard not to embrace such a winning picture. 'Juno' is a movie you just want to hug.
Our first introduction to Juno (Ellen Page) is a bit off-putting. As written by Diablo Cody (one-time real-life stripper, now famous Oscar-winning screenwriter), she's your textbook definition of today's "quirky" high schooler, i.e., she wears impossibly bulky sweater vests, listens to "vintage" bands like the Pixies, and tosses off more pop culture witticisms than the entire cast of 'Dawson's Creek.' Indeed, the first 15 minutes of 'Juno' contains some of the most self-conscious (if undeniably amusing) dialogue ever written, which is ironic since the movie's most laudable critical component is actually what I found to be its weakest link. Indeed, Juno is one of those whip-smart teenagers that can only exist in the movies. Had she really been so brilliant, she'd be a distaff Doogie Howser making a million a year, not off getting knocked up by some doofus high school track star (Michael Cera).
Thankfully, Cody soon tones down the verbose cleverness (or perhaps we just get used to it), and the plot is finally set in motion by the end of the first act when Juno learns she's pregnant. It's here that the movie could have lapsed into After School Special banalities or sitcom stupidity. Instead, Cody is rather amazing at painting a realistic (if slightly heightened) universe that rings true, with all the details of this world falling into place in an organic way that only the best movies are able to manage. The characters' motivations are always clear, their actions and responses authentic -- take the scene where Juno first reveals to her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allyson Janney, both perfectly cast) that she's pregnant. Rather than overact, or flail their arms about in anger, the revelation instead leads to a palpable, poignant sorrow, as we realize that Juno's parents are not so much disappointed in her as sad that their daughter is going to have to lose what's left of her precious, rapidly-evaporating childhood innocence.
It's this sort of perception (and willingness to buck dumb teen comedy convention) that makes 'Juno' quite special. Director Jason Reitman and Cody don't ever get complacent -- I was continually surprised at the turns of the story and the careful modulations of mood and tone. After Juno decides to forgo an abortion (deftly handled in a single scene that avoids preachiness) and taps an upwardly-mobile couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) to adopt her baby, the script only gets deeper and more insightful. Even when I feared the worse -- that Cody would exploit a weird sexual tension between Page and Bateman for easy melodrama -- the movie manages to sidestep such a huge potential narrative landmine and somehow finds even greater humanity in the predicament of both Juno and the couple. It's quite a feat of indie filmmaking acumen, and just plain good screenwriting.
The performances in a movie like this are absolutely crucial, and again the film never takes a wrong step. Page (who so impressed me in the little-seen 'Hard Candy' and 'An American Crime') earned all her critical accolades for wrapping a wise-beyond-her-years cynicism around teenage innocence. Garner and particularly Bateman adroitly turn their potentially cliched characters into believable, three-dimensional people, while Simmons and Janney may be the most fully-realized parental figures ever seen in a mere "teen comedy" (John Hughes, you've been one-upped). Even Cera's usual dopey persona (which is fast approaching caricature after only a handful of films) is the ideal counterbalance to Page's acidic edge -- we truly believe the pair are perfect for each other at this particular adolescent point in time, even while it's so clear Juno is doing the right thing by giving up her baby, since both realize they are not ready to be parents. That 'Juno' is able to mine such disparate thematic levels so effortlessly reminds us that the best movies are the ones that reveal more with each viewing.
Is 'Juno' a perfect film? Not quite. Some of Reitman's directorial touches (particularly a cutesy use of animation) and Cody's reliance on pop culture references will probably date the film, and again, Juno is so self-aware that it's easy to understand the 'Juno' backlash that has dogged its surprise success. Yet the film is still so perfectly realized (even the production and costume design manage to reveal to us exactly who every character is the minute they appear) and wonderfully acted that it's easy to see why it's been hailed as an instant classic in its genre. Few films explore the teenage experience with such truth and humor, and damn if 'Juno' isn't wildly entertaining from start to finish. Whatever its faults, 'Juno' is a film to treasure.
Fox offers one of its standard 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers for 'Juno,' framed at 1.85:1. It's a fairly good-looking presentation of a film that is almost self-consciously "indie," but one that is still polished enough to please.
I was surprised at how grainy/noisy the image could be -- a thin veil permeates throughout, which is film-like, but a bit distracting (particularly on intense colors). The film is not bright, but it does boast some nice, deep hues (particularly the use of reds, browns, and cold winter blues). Fleshtones are accurate in hue if a bit mushy for my taste.
Overall detail is ample if not particularly strong, so while the image has depth it doesn't really pop the way the best high-def does. Sharpness is very good, however, and without annoying edginess, and the source is free of blemishes and dirt. Blacks also excel, if contrast is on the hot side (quite typical of modern transfers these days). I wouldn't rate 'Juno' as high-def demo material, but it's a solid transfer.
'Juno' offers a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), plus a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) option, and English, French and Spanish subtitles. The film's sound design is full of simple aural pleasures, but no more than that.
Dialogue is the star of this show -- it's front and center in the mix and always clear and natural (even if Diablo Cody never met a stylized phrase she didn't like). There is little else of note about the mix, with nominal surround use and little in the way of noticeable discrete effects. The only other prominent feature of the track is the low-key (if instrumental) use of music, such as the now-famous tunes by the Moldy Peaches. But even the music is not pushed to the fore of the mix, and in general feels almost like underscore, rather than an organic element. Dynamics are fine for a film like this, however, with low bass that's strong enough but not overwhelming, and a clean source.
A runaway box office hit, Fox has delivered a supplement package worthy of such a sleeper smash. (The extras are all 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only, and I could find no subtitle options.)
'Juno' is a straight-outta-nowhere sleeper that defied all of Hollywood's conventional wisdom of what "sells" to become a populist blockbuster. Sure, the dialogue is a bit too precious for its own good, but with such memorable characters and insightful ruminations on human foibles, how can you not warm to this film? It makes for an enjoyable Blu-ray too, with solid video and audio and a great batch of extras. To be honest, 'Juno' is not really demo material, but in this case it's about the movie first and foremost, and on that level this Blu-ray is certainly recommended.