Monday, January 7, 2008

Juno (And Vanessa)

SPOILER ALERT: Please don't read if you haven't had a chance to watch JUNO yet.

There is a real pivotal moment in Diablo Cody's script for JUNO that is easily missed if the audience isn't paying close attention. It is a quick bit of dialogue involving the character of Vanessa, a role played absolutely beautifully by Jennifer Garner, in which we learn that this isn't the first time she has attempted to adopt a baby. Cody's clever and it's only mentioned once. It isn't completely clear as to what fell through with the first adoption, but it sounds like the mother backed out at the last minute. It also isn't clear as to whether it has happened just once, but it goes a long way in explaining why the character of Vanessa is so deeply racked with nervousness about Juno and the adoption.
It is a real tricky thing naming your script after one character. The audience is immediately looking to that character as the most important key to the film because of it. While I am not suggesting that the character of Juno isn't a key to the film, I think a more apt title would by JUNO AND VANESSA as to me Cody's work is really telling the story of two women and not one.

I've seen JUNO twice now and I think its a wonderfully written and performed film. I have seen some backlash against Cody's script because of the dialogue and patterns of speech but I was never bothered by it. We are in Cody's world in the film, just as we are in a Mamet film or a Tarantino picture, and I haven't seen anyone claiming JUNO to be the work of a strict realist. Cody's dialogue and timing works perfectly well in the world of JUNO, which is all that it needs to do. Is it the way people talk on a daily basis? No, but really why should that bother me? Her script is filled with more subtlety and emotion than almost any other this year and it should be celebrated as much as the amazing performances in the film.
I must admit that I feel a bit like I have seen a different film than most people have when it comes to JUNO. I have read a lot focusing on the relationship between Juno and Michael Sera's character Paulie Bleeker but the most interesting relationship in the film to me is the unspoken bond that develops between Juno and Vanessa. The key moment of the film in my eyes isn't the last shot where we see Juno and Deeker together and happy, but is instead the remarkable moment when we see the note Juno gave Vanessa framed where her family picture was going to go above her new babies crib.
I really don't know much about Jennifer Garner. I have seen exactly one episode of ALIAS and have only seen her in one other film, THE KINGDOM from earlier this year. I was frankly mesmerized by her in JUNO though. This isn't the kind of work we see much in Hollywood. It belongs to a much more European tradition of suggesting rather than showing, and Garner's work as Vanessa is a major performance. In just a few scenes with probably the least amount of dialogue given to a character in the film, Garner manages to convey that Vanessa is someone who can't have children, is being forced to care for a man who won't grow up and who literally feels like her entire world is in the hands of this odd little girl that has come into her life.
JUNO is ultimately about the connection that these two women make together. It is a silent one, but it is one that will affect them long after the men in their life have faded from memory. The note that Juno hands to Vanessa towards the end of this film cements the bond between them and it is one of the most remarkable moments I have seen in a film in a very long time.
None of this is meaning to discredit the other story lines in the film, or the performances by the male actors. The relationship between Juno and Bleeker is sweet and I like Michael Sera a lot (even though he has so far just played variations of his George Michael character from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and nothing else) and certainly Jason Bateman as Vanessa's husband Mark gives a wonderful and complex performance as a man who isn't quite ready to commit to adulthood.

Still, it is Juno and Vanessa that I keep coming back to. It is rare in modern Hollywood to see such an unspoken bond between two female characters and both Ellen Page and Jennifer Garner portray this beautifully. Watch the scene between the two of them in the mall and look at the understanding that is between them when the baby finally kicks for Vanessa. You won't see better acting by two performers in a film this year.
Ellen Page will get an Oscar nomination for JUNO and I am willing to bet she will surprise everyone and win the Golden Globe in a week. I think she deserves it but my favorite performance in the film, and truth be told of the year, is the work of Jennifer Garner. Her supporting work as Vanessa moved me like no one else in what was a surprisingly strong year in American cinema. Kudos to both Garner and Cody for having the intelligence to deliver such a strong and complex character in the most subtle way imaginable.


CG said...

I couldn't agree more about Jennifer Garner. In my opinion, she absolutely stole every minute of this film she was in. Wasn't expecting it at all, but her work here is stunning.

Nice page you've got going on here. I've got a film review spot as well. Give it a look when you get the chance....

Wine and Werewolves

James Hansen said...

I'm planning on giving Juno another go. I liked it the first time I saw it, but was relatively distracted by an overanxious to laugh preview audience. The subtlety is ever present for sure, but I wanna watch it again to look for more clues early in the script that build all those moments. It is in finding those, I think, that the strengths or weaknesses of the film can really be seen. Nice write up...and continued thanks for the Out 1 support.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks CG,
I will give your blog a look...good luck with it and thanks for the nice comments...

Thanks James,
I appreciate the comments and continue to enjoy Out 1. Keep up the great work...