Normally I reserve movie reviews for the sidebar – and let myself take centrestage – but this is too important. I don’t pretend to be serious about film; in fact all the films I really enjoy are trivial. On Saturday, I watched, with great enjoyment I might add, Material Girls, a complete blonde ditzfest while mildly reconsidering my needling V for his enjoyment of such mentally deficient products as White Girls and whatever the latest Adam Sandler thing is called.
However, I do, despite myself, enjoy a good film now and then. And now that I’ve decided I want to write about it, I don’t know what to say. Clearly I won’t make a good film critic.
Let’s just say Juno has everything. The film I mean, not the girl.
It’s got a quirky retro touch to the filming. It uses the old poetic convention of the seasons as a metaphor for life – only the film starts in autumn, rather fitting as it’s the harvest season, and ends in spring with a new beginning. In between is the nine months in which it takes to make a baby.
It’s got a remarkable new talent in the Ellen Page who plays Juno. She’s like the new Natalie Portman. She’s really really beautiful with a sassy, defiant personality that makes it believable that she would decide to have a baby at 13 as well as inspire the continued devotion of the boy who got her pregnant.
Most importantly, probably because I’m a person who falls in love with words more than images, it’s got a wonderfully entertaining screenplay so that everything that’s said is at once humourous, mildly profound and hugely entertaining. In addition, it doesn’t at any point resort to the cliches of Hollywood – for example, when Juno is driving back from the adoptive parents house and very upset, you see a train go by and expect her to crash into it but nothing so dramatic happens – except perhaps to have a happy ending, which I’m always in favour of in cinema. But even this is a surprise – the film manages to elicit surprise without excessive drama .
This film probably touched everybody over 12 in the audience because it deals with the big elephant in the room (um in Juno’s case, as she gets more pregnant, literally). The moment when you become “sexually active” (when you watch the film you’ll realise why it’s in quotes), the moment of panic everyone goes through at least once when you (or your girlfriend – it’s as momentous for guys if not as devastating) think you’re pregnant, the wondering in the space it takes to discover if or not you are what you’re going to do, the fantasies of ‘keeping it’ and the recognition that you probably won’t, the refusal to imagine the nitty-gritty of an abortion, the temptation of telling your parents or somebody.
Except in Juno’s case it really did happen and she made an unusual choice. For women in the audience who went through the same ordeal but didn’t make Juno’s choice, it must have been a very painful thing to watch. A film experience filled with what ifs. For women who did make her choice, it must have equally so.
For couples trying to have a baby, watching the slight oddness and artificiality of the situation with the adoptive parents, must have made them wince. But the film does not deny or degrade this situation only touches on the desperation of it.
For parents, it’s the recognition of possibly their deepest fears for their children.
For children who are adopted, well, I can’t begin to presume.
What I’m trying to say is that while the film deals with one experience, it also touches many. And it crosses boundaries because the primarily Chinese audience in the cinema was as amused by itss wry humour and tragi-comic air as I was and the two gweilos two rows ahead were.
At one point, I had tears running down my cheeks and V asked me later why I was crying. Typically, he thought that it meant I wanted to have a baby. But it didn’t. Yes, the film does move even the most hardened cynic – as it did its protagonist – into a tentative awe of the miracle of creation that is birth but more than that, it just moves you.
And it does so by being subtle not sappy. Facets of personality are hinted at, not explored. Just as you in the audience are forced to glaze past places inside yourself you don’t always go to. And then when you think you’re going to be seriously depressed, it has you laughing.
Because isn’t that the essence of all great storytelling? To have you laughing as you cry.
…Now enough of me. Go watch the film.
PS: Just watched Roman Holiday with breakfast (even though it’s black and white and I’m allergic to black and white) and will they ever make a woman as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn again?The whole film is about looking at her.