Juno (2007)

(In theaters, January 2008) There are a number of really nice things about this film, and it’s a shame that some of them work at cross-purposes. Juno may begin as a tart-tongued indie comedy with a lot of cynicism, but it gradually transforms itself into a relatively better-mannered romantic drama with a lot more heart than you’d expect from Rainn Wilson’s initial rapid-fire smart-alec riffs. It works, in part because it mirrors the transitions of the characters themselves: Coolness is a variable quality in Juno, and the better people can often be the ones you don’t expect. It earns its heartfelt ending. On the other hand, the crunchy dialog gets more and more ordinary as the film advances, and it’s easy to pine for the earlier flurry of quotable material. But a better case of instincts running aground can be seen in the typical “indie” feel: the minimalist soundtrack, the endearing goofiness of the characters, the jerky pacing, the basement-cheap cinematography and the deliberately off-the-wall opening credits. It works more or less well: Juno wouldn’t be the film it is had it been adulterated by a slick marketing department, but the rough edges of the film still feel off-putting. But I’m really being far more critical than I should: Out of a lengthy list of indie comedies that have caught on mainstream audiences lately, Juno stands far above Napoleon Dynamite and is generally more consistent than Little Miss Sunshine. Ellen Page shines in the title role, and the script is pure savvy writing. Characters act in refreshing fashions (no cheap histrionics here) and stick in mind long after other films have faded in memory. Oh, just see it, all right?

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