Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"The Other Boleyn Girl" and "Juno" - movie reviews

"The Other Boleyn Girl"

I had seen the one-sheet for this film but it didn't make an impression on me. It was the trailer, however, that caught my attention and made me want to see the film.

Here's a link to the trailer.

I've been an Anglophile for as long as I can remember, and I don't think it was because of my original British citizenship. For whatever reason, most things English have caught my interest with ease, particularly with regard to television shows and movies. I also love the grandeur and spectacle of some period pieces, so it's no wonder this film was calling my name. It's the story of two sisters in the time of Henry VIII, one of whom is content with a simpler life and the other of whom has much higher aspirations. In this time, however, women are treated barely above cattle, and they have almost no control over their own destinies. It can be a little disconcerting to watch as the mother of the girls makes almost no attempt to intervene, and even her brother has more say in what happens with her daughters than she does. This is a fully patriarchal society, and even moreso, one where royalty absolutely rules. It doesn't matter what the rules or laws are - what Henry wants, Henry gets, and no one, not even his queen, can stop him.

I knew that the film was based on a book, but I wasn't aware that it was a historical book. For all my Anglophile claims, I'm not actually all that knowledgeable about English history, so even though I'd of course heard of Anne Boleyn, I didn't know the complicated story behind her nor did I know all that King Henry VIII did to gain her favor nor where her eventual place in royal history ended up. The costumes are of course gorgeous, as one would expect in a period piece of this nature. I thought the film was gripping in its story and excellent in its portrayal. Acting performances all around were excellent. I've been a fan of Natalie Portman for some time now, so it was nice to see her doing something that gave her something to sink her teeth into again. Her expressions in this film were terrific. And I'm not necesarily generally a fan of either Scarlett Johansson or Kristen Scott Thomas, but both were also excellent in this film. Eric Bana was also stellar as King Henry himself, torn between his duty to his country and his unexplicable desire for Anne Boleyn.

The film made me interested enough in the story that I'm figuring on buying the book, which I've heard is quite good.

If the Academy can be reminded of this film come next year's Oscar nomination time, I can certainly see this film as a contender in many categories.


And speaking of Oscar contenders, I finally had a chance to see this film. I was the only one in the theatre when the movie started, but then, you wouldn't expect many people on a weekday afternoon show months after a film has been released. Two people ended up arriving about 10 minutes into the film. Oh, and warning to those seeing this film even later than me - expect spoilers ahead.

Quirky is a word that is often used to describe movies, and it's often overused, but if ever a film embodied the quintessential essence of that word, this would be the film. The film seemed jumpy in bits, not necessarily going where you think it might go, but that's pretty much what happens with Juno herself. The basic storyline of the film, an unexpected teenage pregnancy and its affects on the lives of many, isn't all that new, but the execution of that story is rather unconventional. There's not really a lot of drama involved - yes, Juno's father and stepmother aren't thrilled to hear the news, but they support her and help her through it. Juno is picked on by the kids at school, before and during the pregnancy, but her best female friend and her best male friend, Paulie, who is also incidentally the father of her child, stand behind her. Juno can't go through with a planned abortion and instead decides to give her baby up for adoption. She doesn't go through a lawyer or an agency or anything like that - she finds the prospective parents, Vanessa and Mark (played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), through their ad in the Pennysaver, right next to ads for exotic pets. She likes their picture and after meeting with them, decides she likes them enough to give her baby to them. The extremely wealthy couple of course offer to pay all her medical bills, and there's an awkward moment when Vanessa asks what other compensation she might be looking for. Juno doesn't understand at first and is then appalled when she realizes what Vanessa is asking, and she says she doesn't want to sell her baby - she just wants it to have a good home with people who love and want it because she's not equipped to take care of a child.

Juno initially warms to Mark (with whom she discovers a shared interest in music and horror movies) more than Vanessa (who maintains a more distanced relationship), but her feelings for Vanessa change when she accidentally ends up seeing how well Vanessa interacts with her friend's young daughter. During the course of the film, the emphasis is on Vanessa's and Mark's concern that Juno will back out of the arrangement, but as the story progresses, it's actually their own situation that is in danger. Juno doesn't heed her stepmother's warning about her burgeoning friendship with Mark, which Juno insists is completely platonic, so she is devastated when Mark reveals to her that he's leaving Vanessa and getting an apartment, insinuating that now, something can happen between them. (And umm, ok, so even if he thought Juno was interested in him, what's with the 30-something guy willing to hook up with the pregnant 16-year-old who's baby he and his wife were going to adopt? Weird.) Juno is lost for a bit until she makes the decision to go ahead and let Vanessa adopt her baby after all. I loved the framed picture in the nursery of Juno's note, written on the back of a Jiffy Lube receipt. Oh, and on an unrelated note, how funny was that hamburger phone she used at home? As much as Juno knows that she made the right decision for her baby, she still suffers through the loss of giving her baby up, but she is comforted by Paulie, which whom she is now having a romantic relationship.

This is a film where nothing really extraordinary happens, but the film holds your interest nonetheless. The performances all around are terrific, from Jennifer Garner as the woman who is genuinely desperate to have a child because she has so much love to give, to Jason Bateman as the would-be father who isn't ready yet to be a real man, to Allison Janney as the stepmother who really steps up (love that scene with the ultrasound technician), to J.K. Simmons as Juno's dad who understands exactly who his daughter is, to Oscar-nominated Ellen Page as Juno herself. I did think she was very good and caught the various facets of Juno's complicated personality, though I think I would have still been surprised at the nomination had I seen the film prior to nominations being announced.

For me, the stand-out aspect of the film was in the dialogue. It was refreshingly real and casual, with quirks thrown in for each character.

I thought the music choices were a bit funky, but maybe that was just because it wasn't my type of music. However, I had previously heard Sonic Youth's version of The Carpenters' "Superstar" that's featured in this film, and I do think it's an incredible re-working of the song.

I am also amused that this little tiny film is directed by Jason Reitman, who also wrote and directed "Thank You For Smoking" - two films which are a far cry from his famous father's well-known works.


Sherry said...

Yay! You finally saw Juno! I actually want the soundtrack to that movie, because I thought the songs were great, in a weird kind of way. I loved the movie itself, too, and can't wait until it comes out on DVD so that I can recite lines over and over again.

We saw The Other Boleyn Girl on Sunday, and I agree that Natalie was fantastic, as was the rest of the cast. Due to the fact that we learned a lot about Henry VIII in college choir (yes, choir), I'm more of a Tudor Anglophile than other things England (besides my beloved JF), so this movie was right up my alley. I was an absolute wreck by the time the credits rolled. I've been interested in the book for awhile, but haven't read it yet, so if you read it before me, can I borrow it? Maybe I'll be done with the Potter series by then.

Cindy said...

Sure, you can even borrow the book before I read it if I haven't gotten around to it. There are a few things on my list to read and get and read at the moment, so even when I get the book, I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading it.

I'm waiting for a good Borders coupon before I get the book. 20% off is not enough. :)