27 Dresses & Juno

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Two comedies are currently offering distraction at the Multiplex. Although one is weak and the other nearly perfect, “27 Dresses” and “Juno” will both propel their lead players to stardom.

            Katherine Heigl lifts “27 Dresses” out of the ordinary all by herself. She plays Jane, the always-a-bridesmaid friend who plays the role of assistant dream-maker without ever allowing her character to seem cynical or bitter. When she meets Kevin (James Marsden) we know it will take the full length of the movie for them to discover they are soul mates; it does, in interminable fashion.

            Heigl has beauty, brains, and a glorious smile, all qualities that will serve her well in better roles. She also has composure – a quality absolutely necessary here because lingering on her in close-up is the only option the filmmakers really have considering the cliché ridden script. It may just be that there is nothing in this world left to be said about the silliness that engulfs weddings and the families that must deal with them. Heigl scored in the TV hit “Grey’s Anatomy and soared in last summer’s “Knocked Up.” She is clearly equipped for the big time and most probably will be able one day to look back at this wedding movie as a mere pebble in her path.

            On the other hand altogether, “Juno” and its marvelous pint-size star, Ellen Page are the beneficiaries of a sharp script by Diablo Cody, fine direction by Jason Reitman, and a terrific cast. Only a nudnik would throw a wet blanket on this wonderful fire; but maybe just a little one: It’s so good that it risks luring you out of worrying about teenage pregnancy. The questions of who pays the bills and who cares about the erasure of the teenager’s education are reduced to nearly zero by the infectious charm of the cast and the dialogue they are given. That said, this isn’t that kind of a movie. It’s a disarming exercise in writing and acting, forget the implicit lessons.

            High school junior Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) seduces Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) with the predictable result. From that moment on, Cody’s dialogue trips from Juno’s mouth in an uninterrupted stream as Juno becomes a pregnancy entrepreneur. Disgusted by the shoddy abortion clinic, she searches for the perfect parents for her baby. Jennifer Garner is fine as the adoptive mother, and Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons play Juno’s own cooperative parents with great style. Juno delivers her lines with such speed and earnestness that the story, which could have become maudlin or trite, becomes neither. Instead, she shows an admirable sense of responsibility and a quiet sensitivity to her new challenge. Michael Cera is wonderfully restrained, a really nice boy about to become a really nice man.

            It would seem both writer Cody and actress Page are creatures of our contemporary culture – breathless motor mouths who were made for each other. Their collaboration here is a nearly perfect duet.


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