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Award-Winning “Juno” Hits DVD

Observer Scene | Friday, April 18, 2008

“Juno” entranced audiences spanning the country and generations during Oscar season, and now, the witty and sarcastic title character with an affinity for blue slushies has made her way to DVD. Juno, Bleeker, Leah, Mark, Vanessa, Bren and Mac are the characters who comprise the quirky, orange Tic-Tac-filled world that shows us the journey of a young girl dealing with adult problems and the loss of her innocence.

The indie comedy follows Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), a wise-cracking pregnant teen who decides to give up her baby for adoption. Enter perfect couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), who decide to take in Juno and Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) offspring. Helping Juno through her nine months of pregnancy are best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney).

“Juno” was a critical and box office success and it even garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It was the “Little Miss Sunshine” of 2007, but its appeal and popularity may have even extended beyond Steve Carell and Abigail Breslin’s indie hit. Something miraculous happens when Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning screenplay, Jason Reitman’s Oscar-nominated directing, Kimya Dawson’s music and the cast’s acting meet in “Juno.” Yes, all those elements together produce a truly great film, but they also create a cinematic experience that allows the audience to identify with and participate in the story. We feel what each character feels, and regardless of their flaws, we cannot help but like and understand every one of them because their characters are complex, well-developed and of course, funny. It’s a comedy after all, but it’s a comedy with a bigger heart than most of last year’s films.

Page’s performance earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but two other outstanding performers who were overlooked in awards season are Jennifer Garner and Allison Janney. Garner slowly unveils the character of the initially icy Vanessa and shows us the pain of a woman who longs to be a mother. Meanwhile, Janney is a scene-stealer every chance she can get as Juno’s nail technician step-mother, Bren. The crucial scene where Bren tells off the ultrasound technician is one of the film and Janney’s best.

The DVD’s special features are comprised mostly of behind-the-scenes featurettes, that offer some insight into the making of “Juno” and how everyone involved in the film came together to work on the project. We are reminded more than once that screenwriter Diablo Cody is an ex-stripper and that Ellen Page is so much like the title character in real life. Other extras include a gag reel, a gag take in which director Reitman blows up at Rainn Wilson (convenience store clerk Rollo) and a cast and crew “jam” and dance party.

The deleted scenes are worth a look in order to understand how any one of those scenes were not particularly relevant to the advancement of the plot or character development and would have slowed down the pace of the film. Also included in the special features are screen tests with Page, Cera, Simmons and Thirlby, which show the progression of scenes from such a raw form to the final cut that we see in the film.

The best feature on the DVD is the commentary by Reitman and Cody. All too often in film, the screenwriter is pushed aside once production begins and is no where to be found on DVD commentaries or featurettes. Cody, however, held a unique position in the making of “Juno.” Her script had barely been touched from its original form when shooting began, and she had the freedom to be on set and work with Reitman in making sure that the final product was the “Juno” that both of them envisioned. The commentary shows the ease of their relationship and offers insight into all production aspects of “Juno” – not just the directing.

The only criticism of the DVD is that “Juno” loses some of its magic when transferred to the DVD format. Films are made to be viewed on giant screens in darkened theaters in order to totally immerse audiences in the worlds of those films. It’s harder to recapture that immersion into the “Juno” universe when watching from home. However, that is no fault of the screenwriter, director, cast or crew. “Juno” remains one of the best films of 2007 for all its humor, intelligence and warmth. There’s no getting around its brilliance.

Contact Cassie Belek at cbelek@nd.edu.