In a fascinating year of great action movies, quality dramas and hilarious comedies, the underrated Oscar contender of the year could be Juno, though ever since it opened to critical acclaim and now box office success, it's a bit unfair to refer to it as "underrated."
Juno is this year's Little Miss Sunshine, though it makes that movie look like an opening act. Featuring an Oscar-worthy performance from young Ellen Page (Hard Candy, X-Men 3) and an impressively sharp screenplay from Diablo Cody, Juno is a great comedy-drama that could give some of the more depressing films (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Atonement, to name a few) a run for their money.
The movie is about a 16-year old girl named Juno (Page) who possesses amazing wit and sarcasm, and the stupidity to have sex without a condom. Now pregnant, she finds herself with the unfortunate choice of an abortion or taking a baby to term while still in high school, and she opts for the latter. With no interest of raising a baby at her age, however, she finds the seemingly perfect couple to adopt her baby, and they come in the form of Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. As she grows larger, however, she begins to realize that this couple isn't as perfect as she once thought, and it makes her realize the truth about her relationship with her baby's father (Michael Cera).
Page turns in a terrific performance as the title character; she was impressive in Hard Candy, but Juno is her break-out film. Page matches the intensity of the script at every step, which is challenging considering just how fast and sharp the dialogue is. Cody and Page have concocted a great character in Juno; if she were my daughter, I would disown her just for being so sarcastic and annoying, but since she isn't, she's one of the most entertaining characters I've seen in a long time. Furthermore, while I normally wouldn't recommend a comedic performance for an Oscar, this year is so barren when it comes to powerful female performances that she could slip in with the win.
More importantly than the acting, though, Juno is just an all around entertaining picture. Funny and at times sweet, the movie will appeal to both genders equally. At times, the jokes fly so fast that you may be still be laughing at one and miss two more to follow. While Cody has to be credited with the dialogue that really makes the movie, director Jason Reitman, who plays off the screenplay with some creative physical comedy, also does an excellent job. The film has a realistic quirkiness to it that works just right, and Reitman has to be credited with a lot of that. The performances by Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons also help. Jennifer Garner, unfortunately, doesn't get much to do.
Juno is one of the best movies of 2007. Funny and smart, it's a refreshing change of pace.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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