movieguru (2008-02)

Knocked Out

Movie Guru

Ellen Page marks her territory in Juno

by Coury Turczyn

The first clue that you may in fact be watching a quirky indie comedy arrives when Rainn Wilson appears in the opening scene as a convenience store clerk.

Second clue: As the main character, a 16-year-old girl, ponders her immediate future while holding a positive pregnancy test, he says: â“That ainâ’t no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that canâ’t be un-did, homeskillet!â”

Cha-ching! Yes, Juno is undeniably and unabashedly one of those kinds of movies, where every character is a Character and every line of dialogue comes with its own set of quotation marks. Do even the wittiest of clerks ever have the mental fortitude to say things like, â“You better pay for that pee-stick when youâ’re done with it. Donâ’t think itâ’s yours just because you marked it with your urine!â” Perhaps if heâ’s an aspiring screenwriter, because only screenwriters think that mortal humans converse this way: quirkily.

But despite the hollow clunk of its first sceneâ"and the Wes Andersonian notes throughoutâ"Juno manages to overcome its genreâ’s clichés to become a genuinely touching comedy about teen pregnancy. And the reason why is very clear: Ellen Page makes you believe that a teenager can have the mouth of a jaded 40-year-old.

Her character, Juno, is the sort of girl who wraps herself in such a thick shield of sarcasm that sheâ’s barely phased by her predicament: impregnated by her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) after a what-the-heck incident of intercourse. Perturbed, yes, but not quite as terrified as you might expect a young woman to be in such a situation. Instead, she uses this opportunity to crack wise about it.

Apologizing to her parents: â“And if it is any consolation, I have heartburn that is radiating in my knee caps.â”

Advising a potential adopter of her unborn baby: â“You shouldâ’ve gone to China, you know, â’cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those T-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.â”

Announcing that she has broken her water: â“Thundercats are go!â”

By almost any standard of human discourse, this is awfully precious dialogue. But Page musters enough humanity for her character that itâ’s easy to overlook her studiously written exclamations; she is at once withering and plaintive, someone covering for the fact that sheâ’s in over her head. Marching forward belly first, Juno compensates for her suddenly-much-more difficult life by flaunting her â“mistakeâ”â"sheâ’s dealing with it, so why wonâ’t you? In an era of increasingly insipid movie characters (especially teenagers), itâ’s hard not to root for one whoâ’s smart, witty, and braveâ"though you may occasionally wish the script would let her take a breather from casting impeccable barbs.

With but one movie script to her credit, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody is already among our most celebrated scribes. That may have more to do with her well-publicized background (what media outlet can resist a stripper-turned-writer story?) than her writing skills, but Juno is quickly earning her a following not unlike Buffyâ’s Joss Whedon. In fact, her attempts at coining catchphrases are downright Whedonesque, though not nearly as clever. â“Honest to blog!â” Junoâ’s best friend exclaims, instantaneously dating the movie for all eternity. And will the term â“wizardâ” ever really become the new â“radâ”? We can only hope not.

Juno doesnâ’t encounter many potholes in her journey. Her supportive parents barely bat an eye at the news of her pregnancy. She quickly finds a young, wealthy couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) to adopt her baby through one scan of the ads in the Penny Saver; they turn out to be not quite perfect, but this causes only momentary disarray. As her partner in ill-advised sex, Cera more or less portrays the same likable, shy boy heâ’s been playing since Arrested Development, only with fewer lines. He seems agreeable to whatever. Yes, everybodyâ’s issues do get resolved, just as you expected them to.

This qualifies Juno as a feel-good movie, though the main characterâ’s triumph doesnâ’t seem particularly hard-fought. Things are just a bit too neat and orderly for a movie that is being prized for its sense of reality. Nevertheless, Ellen Page creates a character you wish you knew, someone whoâ’s always funny, always interesting, and who could use some help. Itâ’s a performance thatâ’s hard to resist, in a movie that serves mostly as a pleasant backdrop for an interesting new actress.

Rental Hygiene

Lady Chatterley

D.H. Lawrenceâ’s novel has been unlucky in its relationships with the screen. Given the bookâ’s once-scandalous sexual explicitness, filmmakers have been forced to short the fleshier aspects (a chaste-seeming 1955 French version), or, have gone wild with them (an overheated 1981 version starring Sylvia â“Emmanuelleâ” Kristal). Pascale Ferranâ’s recent film version isnâ’t perfect, but it comes closest to making the novel a story that successfully addresses heart, head, and groin.

The story is familiar even though Ferran adapted Lawrenceâ’s second, penultimate version of the novel, a kinder and more tender take. With her husband Clifford (Hippolyte Giradot) paralyzed by a war wound, Constance Chatterley (Marina Hands) drifts around their grand rural manor, disconnected from her life. The inadvertent sight of the estateâ’s gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloâ’ch), bathing stripped to the waist stirs Lady Chatterley out of her funk. Tentatively, the lady and the servant bridge the class divide for a fling that turns into something deeper and more sustaining for both.

Whatâ’s most scandalous here is the literary languor with which Ferran lavishes her subject; Lady Chatterleyâ’s nearly three-hour run-time seems almost indulgent in an era where one starts clocking the time on the DVD player if a film runs over 80 minutes. But the deliberate pace allows Ferran to fully explore the hesitant unfolding of Constance and Parkinâ’s relationship, which must navigate the usual human insecurities and vulnerabilities as well as social issues, and how it changes their lives. It also helps that Hands and Coulloâ’ch are both fairly ordinary-looking, even ungainly at times; through the directorâ’s watchful lens, their coming together bears the earmarks of effort, risk, and need, rather than mere scripting and choreography. â" Lee Gardner

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