Juno

Juno (2008)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, and More
Rating:

Director Jason Reitman brings us the surprise hit comedy "Juno" fresh off the heels of another Oscar nominated feature called "Thank You For Smoking" from 2005. Every once in a while a comedy comes along that defies expectations, and "Juno" was a huge critical and commercial success, even getting nominated for an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Directing.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is one of those edgy teenage girls who dresses with an attitude and whose language is filled with flair; the entire film is filled with her witty and often hilariously blunt observations (written by newcomer Diablo Cody) about the people and situations around her. Ellen Page's performance is dead on and her work in this film will certainly propel her career.

After discovering she has become pregnant by her mild mannered and very shy boyfriend (Michael Cera from "Superbad), Juno heads to the local women's clinic for an abortion. In the parking lot she is confronted with an abortion protestor/school acquaintance who tells her that her baby has fingernails. Sitting in the waiting room and looking at all the fingernails in the room freaks her out and she ends up consulting with her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) who convinces her to consider adoption. They end up scouring the paper for suitable parents and after they find them, it's time to talk to her father and stepmother.

Her family appears dysfunctional at first, but we soon get caught up in the quirkiness and eccentricities of her blue collar family life. A child of divorce, Juno lives with her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and his wife Bren (Allison Janney). I simply love the way everything in this film defies my expectations and what looks at first like typical stereotypes quickly becomes something more than that. For instance, the reactions to her major announcement that she is pregnant are shock and dismay, but not once do we see her father get angry. Instead of threatening the boy who got her pregnant, he simply looks puzzled, and he also offers to meet with the prospective adoptive family. Her stepmother really steps up to the plate and helps when she can, even though it's clear that she and Juno have always had a strained relationship. And this is the type of family who actually says what is on their mind; they are somewhat reminiscent of the family depicted on the television series "Roseanne".

If this sounds like a Lifetime Movie Network type of film, it isn't. Just when you think you know where the film is going, it doesn't. It also isn't political in any way, it is simply telling a story and it doesn't even pretend to moralize, which is refreshing.

The film also introduces us to the upper class family she has chosen to possibly take care of the child, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). Juno and her father Mac pay a visit to the couple and we find that on the surface of things they are the perfect couple, but once again the film eventually digs deeper and these characters also take on a more three dimensional tone as the film moves along.

This film is filled with excellent performances and is very well written and directed. If you like intelligent comedies like "Ghost World" or "Rushmore" you will love this film.
The subject matter has several opportunities to become overly dramatic and sappy, but it constantly goes in the other direction. Not only was I impressed with the clever characters, but also the way we get pulled in emotionally with them, by the end of the movie. The ending is worth the whole ride.

On the video side of things, we have a film presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it fills the screen nicely. Although the original elements of this independent feature from Fox Searchlight are not really demo material, the film still looks great even with the very film like grain that permeates throughout the feature. The black levels enhance the texture of the film quite nicely and yet because of the original elements, it never really has that three dimensional feel that some of the new releases have. The colors are very deep and rich, though and I know that this release rises above its standard edition counterpart, because I've seen that version, too.

The audio is certainly exciting being that my firmware update now makes my system capable of delivering a 5.1 DTS HD Master Lossless Audio presentation. I have to admit, Fox is really on top of things in the audio department, and their releases continue to deliver (in the DTS HD department). Obviously we don't have a huge amount of surround action, but the music and dialogue really shine on this release. I especially love the soundtrack, which is filled with moody rock and roll and simply sounds very crisp and excellent. I think I may end up purchasing the soundtrack.

The special features begin with a commentary by director Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, which is very lively. Diablo is a female writer and she actually won the Academy Award for Best Writing for her witty and insightful work on this. They keep it casual, and it is a very entertaining commentary.

All of the special features are in standard definition. We have twenty minutes of deleted scenes that I could actually see being left in because they are all fairly impressive and add to the story. You won't want to miss these. They include optional commentary from the director and writer.

We also have four featurettes. The first is 'Way Beyond "Our" Maturity Level' which runs about nine minutes and is basically about the main character and Ellen Page's performance. 'Honest To Blog! Creating Juno' runs thirteen minutes and explains how the writer captured the dialogue in the film so well. She is a real character. 'Jason Reitman For Shizz' explains why the director was chosen for this specific job and runs eight minutes. 'Diablo Cody Is Totally Boss' is a nine minute feature that recounts the story of Cody's unlikely rise to fame. All of these features are fun and very perceptive.

Fox fleshes everything out with some outtakes, 'Screen Tests', and 'Cast And Crew Jam' which is actually a music video that features everyone from the film. All in all, this is a pretty full package, even if we don't have any high def content.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray release is a second disc which enables you to make a digital copy for your iPod or other portable device. This is quite handy if you are into that sort of thing like I am. Also we have two Fox Movie Channel featurettes that are Blu-ray only including 'World Premiere…Juno' and 'Casting Sessions: Juno' but they are typical promo spots.

I didn't know what to expect when I first started watching "Juno", but it won me over quick. It deals with a serious subject and is a comedy, but somehow it perfectly balances everything so well I found the entire film to be a breath of fresh air and I'm not surprised it was such a hit. This Blu-ray edition is a real winner and is definitely the version to get your hands on.

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