On Sunday, I chose to attend back-to-back screenings of Austin Film Festival & Screenwriters Conference selections Juno and Lars and the Real Girl. I really enjoyed the former and was kind of disappointed by the latter. Jason Reitman’s second feature as a director (from a witty script by newcomer Diablo Cody), Juno is the kind of hipster-teen comedy that either lives or dies based on your willingness to accept the stubborn coolness of the film’s title character. Played quite beautifully by the underrated Ellen Page, Juno is the kind of girl that knows more than anyone else about the world around her. Juno’s sarcastic, clever, and determined. Which is why it’s such a shock to her and all around her, when she becomes pregnant after a chance encounter with her best friend (played by Michael Cera).
The rest of the film details Juno’s quest to solve her situation, which leads her to a yuppie suburbanite couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) willing to adopt the unborn child. But Juno is far from an ensemble. It’s a vehicle for two talented women: Page and Cody. With Cody’s too-clever script and Page’s deadpan delivery, Juno joins the ranks of Heathers, Election, and Clueless as smart commentaries on amusingly modern teen angst. If there’s any criticism to be thrown on the film, it’s that Cody’s screenplay (while dynamo and brilliant most of the time) relies on the characters to be one-dimensional. Even the title character needs more depth, more humanity, to be 100% stellar. But the film is highly entertaining and often gut-busting. Definitely recommended, once it opens in December.
As for Lars and the Real Girl, I pulled myself into seeing it after this weekend’s reviews started claiming it was worthwhile. On paper, the premise (an awkward young man buys a sex doll and passes her off as a real companion) sounds utterly unwatchable. The press, as the film opened this weekend in limited release, seemed to counter those fears. Now that I’ve seen it, I can sort of understand why: the film isn’t a mess, it’s just nothing special. While it doesn’t take the premise and become a one-joke comedy, Lars and the Real Girl is unremarkable in its attempts to stay watchable after the first 30 minutes. In a sense, it could have made a lovely short film. Instead, it’s not a one-joke comedy but a one-note dramedy. That said, the performances (especially Ryan Gosling as the tortured Lars) are really stellar. The material, however, leaves something to be desired.