Film Review: Juno

There are an infinite amount of reasons why I loved this movie. I hardly know where to begin.

I’ve heard this movie compared to Little Miss Sunshine because it plays like a comedy, but feels emotionally deep. Ellen Page as Juno is excellent as the tom-boyish smart ass who prefers all things alternative, including her attitude. She is sarcastic and witty and pessimistic about all things, but throughout the movie you catch a glimpse of the little girl inside.

Her default solution is to abort the baby, so she goes to the only abortion clinic in town that doesn’t require parental approval. As she approaches the clinic she sees one lonely protester who is holding a sign, chanting, “All babies want to get borned!” Juno stops to assess the situation, then takes a deep breath and approaches the girl. “Hi Su-Chin,” she says to the girl from her class. Juno continues to tell a smart ass story about behavioral medication, her wit a shocking distraction to Su-Chin, and she slips past into the clinic.

I loved this scene and how it shows the way she uses her smart ass edginess as a schtick to deflect the gravity of her situation. She does this throughout the movie, one time requesting “a Maker’s Mark, up,” when asked by the adoptive couple what she would like to drink. It’s the thing she does to guard her heart, to make her look strong and unaffected.

A review I read somewhere said there is no obvious villain in the movie – it is full of flawed characters and complicated relationships. I agree with this, and find it refreshing. I love that Juno’s father is not absent nor an idiot. Even thought he says some hurtful things to her (in the moment you find out your daughter is pregnant, wouldn’t your guard be down?), but he is a strong dad, and together with her step mom of ten years, Brenda, they team up to support her through her decision to have her baby adopted.

Dad: “When she sat us down to talk did you see this coming?”

Brenda: “Yeah, but I was hoping she was expelled or on drugs.”

Dad: “Or a DWI. Anything but this.”

One subtle but poignant line is when a very pregnant Juno walks into the kitchen and her dad greets her by saying, “Hey there, big puffy version of Junebug!” It’s not a big deal, and I almost didn’t catch what he says, but in that subtle greeting you get a sense that the two are close, and that there is no judgment or tension between them, that many days and weeks have gone by that are normal, and perhaps even mundane.

You get a sense that life has thrown them a curve ball before, but they always manage to get on base

Regarding the script, it is amazing. I thought it was a great film about complicated relationships that didn’t insult my intelligence. Even at certain points when I was sure the absolutely predictable thing was going to happen, the story avoids the melodramatic and stays true to its tone. I love how Juno’s naivety leads her to make certain decisions, but her strong convictions compel her to speak up when they are breached.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman are great as the adoptive couple. From the previews I thought they were going to be more like caricatures, but they are well played, and provide great secondary plot line that further complicates the situation.

That’s about all I can say without giving anything away. If you’ve seen the movie and are interested in reading my comments on it that contain spoilers, go here for my discussion points on the Arts and Faith discussion board.

As a little piece of extra credit, the screen play was written by a stripper in Minneapolis who started blogging about her experiences as a stripper (just google “Diablo Cody” for the story). A Hollywood talent agent saw her blog and said she had a great ‘voice’ and should consider writing a book, so she wrote “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.” And the rest, as they say, is history. Here’s a great Wired article about her discovery story, and here is her interview on Letterman for the book:

Film Review: Babel

Bryan and I just saw Babel this weekend while away without the kids. And by the way, I don’t recommend watching this movie when you are away from your children on a vacation – it causes an irrational fear about what YOUR babysitters are up to…. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I mean.

But all that aside, I really enjoyed the film, if ‘enjoyed’ is the appropriate term for such heavy content. I was pleased that it was not turned into a Brad Pitt Blockbuster, but that his role was actually on equal ground with all the other major players, and he was not given a special limelight just because he has a pretty face.

One of the conversations that Bryan and I had was in comparing it to Crash in the way the two movies give you a slice of life into how these people are connected. We liked the dissonance of Babel, that not everything was wrapped up in neat bow, that not everything in life is resolved the way we want it to be. I think Crash was a great film overall, but it contained that cheeseball scene where Matt Dillon’s character just HAPPENS to drive past the accident of the gal he had violated, and just HAPPENS to be able to redeem himself by rescuing her from a burning vehicle.

I just thought that was hokey.

I also liked the contrast between the American kids and the Moroccan kids. The American kids were soft, and dependent, and spoiled, while the Moroccan kids were tough and carried their weight within the family and farming structure. The American kids were lost and afraid in the desert, while the Moroccan kids made a life in the harsh desert.

Not a mind-blowing thing to point out, but I always appreciate perspective on my cushy American life.

It seems I’ve been watching a lot of films with strong willed kids in them, or kids with a strong ‘life-force’ as my friend, Kristin, likes to call it. I mentioned in another post my thoughts on the boy from Duma, and Ofelia from Pan’s Labyrinth – how these kids possessed a strong life-force that caused desert drifters to follow them and frogs to regurgitate large keys – how I think of my own children, and whether they will possess a strong life-force.

The young Moroccan boy in Babel has a strong life-force, only he is deviant and cocky, and his lack of discernment and concern for others has tragic outcomes for many people around him. His life-force leaves behind a wake of sadness, not one of admiration. So now I have the contrast of these two kinds of life-forces in children – in one example I am in awe of these kids and their use of the strong character they are given, but in this other example, the Moroccan boy, I am terrified by what damage a strong life-force can cause, and it gives me pause to consider how I lead my strong willed daughter through life.

Movie Review: Pan’s Labyrinth

Bryan and I saw this movie a few weeks ago when it opened. I’m not a big fan of the fantasy genre, I must admit, so I went reluctantly after securing promises that I would get to pick the next movie we saw. For this reason I walked in without much expectation of enjoying it, but I surprised myself: I liked it.

The film contains your basic elements of a good drama: the hero, the bad guy, the oppressed people, and the revolutionists. In this case, one of the heroes is a young girl named Ofelia, and the bad guy is her step father, Capitan Vidal, who is head of a remote outpost in Spain. Ofelia’s mother is widowed, and comes across as a weak woman, though it may only seem that way because she is late in her pregnancy and experiencing complications. But it is implied that she has married this man because she needs to be taken care of.

In contrast, Ofelia is strong and brave. There is a particular scene I loved, one involving a giant frog and large creepy-crawling bugs. I flinched just WATCHING the scene (though my fingers), but Ofelia remained clear-headed and innovative under pressure. I was in awe of that.

We recently watched the movie, Duma, with Ruthie. It is about a boy who is also very brave and tenacious and quick-thinking. Ever since I saw Duma I have wondered, how realistic is it of me to hope my children will have such character? Is this a Hollywood expectation only? Are real children capable of such maturity under pressure? I wondered the same things as I watched Ofelia, and I hope for my own daughter to possess strength and bravery like what I saw in the characters of both of these movies.

The story also caused me to think through how I parent Ruthie, how I prepare her to think critically, and whether I am channeling her strong-willed tendencies in a positive direction or if I am simply crushing them. Throughout the movie Ofelia was faced with issues of choice and obedience: when is it right to disobey? When is it wrong? And how does one discern the difference?

Ofelia and Mercedes, who is an employee of the Capitan’s and one of the heroes of the movie, are meek as they need to be under a dictator (not weak, but meek as Christ was), but ferocious and brave when called for. And the Capitan is a bully, for sure – an exaggerated bully some might say, and one hopes that his demise is just around the corner. He is an uncomplicated character. I tend to prefer stories in which the lines between the bad and the good are blurred, because I think this is more indicative of real life. But the Capitan’s simple and exaggerated badness works within this movie, as other aspects of the movie contain blurred lines (such as the issue of choice and obedience, as mentioned earlier), creating interest and tension in other ways.

Overall I enjoyed it, even though many aspects of fantasy stories are lost on me (I went through most of the movie wondering why it was called Pan’s Labyrinth. I understood the Labyrinth part, but who was Pan supposed to be? There is no Pan in this movie! Only to finally realize that ‘Pan’ is another word for a ‘faun,’ which was a main character in Ofelia’s fantasy. Sigh.). The story is compelling, and contains tension, and portrays females as strong heroes. If you have any inkling toward fantasy, or love someone who loves fantasy, I recommend seeing it.

Film Review: Children of Men

Spoiler warning: This review contains spoilers, indicated by orange italics, so avoid those paragraphs if you haven’t seen the movie.

Bryan and I saw Children of Men last night, and it evoked a response in me that I have never before experienced from a movie. I am familiar with sad movies, and scary movies, and emotionally manipulating movies, and even action and violence, but I felt none of the usual responses to these types of films. It has taken a day or so for me to put words to my emotion, and I think I have finally found the right description: grief.

I consider myself an apathetic person who finds it fairly easy to separate myself from the tragedy of other people and cultures. Even in the face of actual footage of the devastation of tsunamis and floods and hurricanes, I move about my business unfazed – unless I am drawn in by a personal connection.

I was not expecting to see any of what I saw. I was simply on a date with my husband who picked the movie, and his choice in film has never let me down. This was no exception. It was an excellent film – definitely in my top 10. But as brilliant as it was, it was also difficult to watch – much like the movie, Life is Beautiful.

As a woman who has given birth twice in a froo froo bed in a fancy hospital with staff doting over me and a warm meal brought at my request, I was moved by the experiences of Kee – the filth of the room, the cold, the fear, the pain, the lack of soothing music and a birthing ball and a hot tub. As the baby was set on Kee’s belly, a frantic whisper escaped my lips: “Cover the baby…” I said, as steam from the warm newborn wafted up into the cold space.

As the end of the movie played out, I sobbed, even into the credits and for most of the car ride home. This movie put into context a reality for many people that I have never been able to understand or even have a feeling for – in video game terms, this was a ‘first person shooter’ movie. People in other parts of the world, both currently and within my lifetime, have experienced what I saw in this film, and I was overwhelmed with grief from years of ignoring the plight of other people.

One cannot control when a baby is born, and if you happen to go into labor during a military siege, then you are not having a good day. I felt like I’d been hit by a truck after giving birth, and my insides were torn and stretched. But I slept in my soft, white bed for days until I felt strong enough to get up.

So for me, this movie was steeped in seriousness with pockets of humor, and filled with bravery, and strength of character, and hope, and a commitment to something greater than one’s self.

He’s Come a Long Way from ‘The Beach’

Have you ever planned an entire date around one drink? I think of that Kohler commercial where the lady sets a faucet on the architect’s desk and says, ‘Design a house around this.” I did that tonight. I designed an entire date around the Jitterbug Martini.

Tonight was our first date in many weeks due to travel schedules and a slight hiccup in our feelings of adoration for one another. October was a tough month so it was nice to get out and enjoy each other’s company.

Which is why I planned our entire date around the Jitterbug Martini. I just HAD to have one. Or two. I would have had more, but I lost the coin toss for driving the babysitter home.

Columbia City has a mom-and-pop type movie theater that just happened to be playing the movie we wanted to see, so you can tell how the Jitterbug was in the stars for tonight. We saw The Departed, and I think this may be the best damn movie I’ve seen in my whole life. You may think that’s the Jitterbug talking, but I only had two, and I was saying this before I’d even had a drop. It was so heart wrenching and suspenseful that I nearly had a nervous breakdown. In a good way. I definitely have an ulcer.

If you liked The Usual Suspects and L.A. Confidential, you will love this movie. Leonardo was amazing. This was no shallow blockbuster performance a la The Titanic or The Beach. This was ACTING. He had RANGE. During the movie I forgot he was Leonardo and felt compassion for Billy Costigan. And as Bryan said, it was also good to see pretty boy Matt Damon play a darker role.

Speaking of Bryan, he also thought The Departed was a good movie, but contends that it does not nudge the perfection of L.A. Confidential.

If you have a husband and you don’t go on dates regularly, you should. It’s a must. After sex, it’s the most important ingredient to a healthy relationship. If you can’t afford a babysitter, use the buddy system. Grab a friend and do a swap – an I’ll watch yours if you watch mine kind of thing.

And go see The Departed.