At the beginning of 27 Dresses, Jane (Katherine Heigl), a serial bridesmaid with an almost pathological devotion to other people’s nuptials, spends a long night shuttling between two weddings. One is in Midtown Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn; one has an upper-crusty, white-bread look, while the other appears to be a Jewish-Hindu intermarriage. But, as the director, Anne Fletcher, methodically cuts back and forth between them, she makes the reasonably insightful, moderately funny point that modern American weddings, however they may strain for individuality and specialness, are all pretty much alike.
The template is something like this: A career woman who lives in a bright and perky city takes a bit under two hours to make it to the altar with (or at least be stopped at the airport by) the Right Guy, who had seemed at first to be the Wrong Guy. Earlier, the Wrong Guy had seemed to be the Right Guy.
Katherine Heigl as an unlucky bridesmaid in 27 Dresses
For ease of reference, let’s call the one the heroine ends up with the Right Wrong Guy and the one she rejects the Wrong Right Guy. In the case of 27 Dresses, the Right Wrong Guy is James Marsden, who recently played the Wrong Right Guy in Enchanted, while the Wrong Right Guy is Edward Burns, who gets to be the Right Wrong Guy mostly in movies he writes and directs himself.
The best thing about 27 Dresses, which was written by Aline Brosh McKenna (whose script adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada was far more witty and interesting), is that the Guys are not really the point. Or, rather, if getting the Right one is the point of the story (see above), the spark of comedy is carried by the women in the picture.
Too bad it’s such a dim spark. Why Fletcher and McKenna couldn’t have supplied these three funny, charming women with a funny, charming movie is something of a puzzle. Or maybe it isn’t, since their task seems to have been to produce a movie that wouldn’t make all the other movies exactly like it too envious.
Juno MacGuff, the title character of Jason Reitman’s new film, is 16 and pregnant, but Juno could not be further from the kind of hand-wringing, moralizing melodrama that such a condition might suggest. Juno, played by the poised, frighteningly talented Ellen Page, is too odd and too smart to be either a case study or the object of leering disapproval. She assesses her problem, and weighs her response to it, with disconcerting sangfroid.
It’s not that Juno treats her pregnancy as a joke, but rather that in the sardonic spirit of the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, she can’t help finding humour in it. Tiny of frame and huge of belly, Juno utters wisecracks as if they were breathing exercises, referring to herself as “the cautionary whale”.
Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page in Juno
At first, her sarcasm is bracing and also a bit jarring—“Hello, I’d like to procure a hasty abortion,” she says when she calls a women’s health clinic—but as Juno follows her from pregnancy test to delivery room, it takes on surprising delicacy and emotional depth. The snappy one-liners are a brilliant distraction, Cody’s way of clearing your throat for the lump you’re likely to find there in the movie’s last scenes.
The first time I saw Juno , I was shocked to find myself tearing up at the end, since I had spent the first 15 minutes or so gnashing my teeth and checking my watch.
The passive-aggressive pseudo-folk songs, the self-consciously clever dialogue, the generic, instantly mockable suburban setting—if you can find Sundance on a map, you’ll swear you’ve been here before.
But Juno (which played at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, not the one in Park City, Utah) respects the idiosyncrasies of its characters rather than exaggerating them or holding them up for ridicule. And like Juno herself, the film outgrows its own mannerisms and defences, evolving from a coy, knowing farce into a heartfelt, serious comedy.
©2008/The New York Times
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