Scotland, Pa. (2001)

2016 #61
Billy Morrissette | 99 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA / English | NR / R

Scotland, Pa.Shakespeare gets transposed to 1970s Pennsylvania in this blackly comedic reimagining of Macbeth, which converts the Thane of Glamis into a diner chef and the Scottish throne into ownership of a new concept: drive-thru.

Writer-director Billy Morrissette cleverly reconfigures aspects of the original (the witches are hippies; the ‘spot’ on Mrs Macbeth’s hand is a burn from spitting oil), but dodges being literally beholden to the text, allowing the humour and new situations to drive matters — you don’t need to be a fan of the Bard to get it.

It’s probably a little too long, but still an amusing variation.

4 out of 5

Space Station 76 (2014)

2015 #103
Jack Plotnick | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Space Station 76Liv Tyler is the new first officer on a space station commanded by Patrick Wilson in this retro-future-styled film, which is both a spoof of/riff on ’70s genre movies, and a character drama about people’s relationships. No, really.

The most obvious aspect, especially as it’s played up in the joke-focused trailer, is the former. The film’s visual aesthetic is a loving recreation of classic SF, from the set design to the gorgeous model-like CGI exteriors. I don’t think anything in particular was being referenced — at least, not obviously so — but it’s all reminiscent of the likes of the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Space: 1999, and so on. It’s been created with such care that it borders on the beautiful.

The film itself is not really a genre spoof, though. It’s not taking the mick out of the storylines or acting style or what-have-you of productions of that era, but has adopted the era — the character types, their social interrelations, the familiar design style — to do its own thing. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t find humour in that adopted era: one of the most memorable moments involves a videophone (though, of course, that’s now riffing on something many of us are familiar with from the likes of Skype), and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud-hilarious bits from the awesome Dr Bot, the station’s robot psychiatrist, perfectly voiced by Michael Stoyanov (also one of the screenwriters). For me, Dr Bot pretty much justified the film’s existence.

It’s not just a silliness-based comedy, though. It’s masquerading as that, with the aesthetic choices and the joke-focused trailer, but I think what it really wants to be is a character drama about people not connecting, almost in the vein of something like Magnolia. While the characters’ relations play out through the prism of ’70s values, and are occasionally Everybody loves Dr Botused to feed into the humour, that’s simply what makes it, a) a period movie (just a period movie set in the future), and b) a comedy-drama (as opposed to a drama). I think this is the real reason for its lowly regard on sites like IMDb: those expecting Anchorman in Space are going to be disappointed; but you can’t blame anyone for such expectations when that’s more-or-less how it’s trailed.

Critics are kinder: 67% on Rotten Tomatoes sounds low, but it’s not all that bad (it’s enough to be “certified fresh”, certainly); and I tend to agree with Matt Zoller Seitz when he says that “the movie is ten times lovelier than it needed to be… The art direction, costumes, effects, lighting and camerawork are committed to beauty for beauty’s sake, to the point where you might respond to Space Station 76 not as a sendup of its sources but as a lucid cinematic dream about them.” Seitz concludes, almost poetically, that he has “no idea who the audience for this film is, beyond the people who made it, and that’s what makes it special.”

Mashing up two such disparate styles of moviemaking means Space Station 76 won’t — indeed, doesn’t — work for a lot of people. Anyone after out-and-out comedy will only find a smattering of such scenes; anyone after a thoughtful comedy-drama with emphasis on the drama will not be looking here in the first place, and even if they did, may despair at some of the more (shall we say) juvenile comedic beats. Regular readers will know I have a fondness for awkward mash-ups, though, so I rather loved it. Special special effectsThe characters and their relations are well enough drawn to make it passably engrossing, even if not a stand-out contribution to any such genre, while the comedy pays off handsomely at times.

If you feel you can get on board with such a style mishmash, then I’d say Space Station 76 is cautiously recommended.

4 out of 5

Space Station 76 is available on Netflix UK from today.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

2015 #81
Colin Trevorrow | 82 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

WANTED. Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.

Safety Not GuaranteedThe debut feature from the director of all-conquering box office behemoth Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed is a small-scale indie comedy that may or may not have a sci-fi twist. Inspired by a real newspaper ad (actually written by a bored editor), this fictional version sees three journalists from a Seattle magazine tracking down the guy who placed the ad in order to find out the true story behind it.

Despite the unique-sounding premise, much of the film plays as a pretty standard indie romantic-comedy-drama. You’ve got Aubrey Plaza as the girl who never quite fit in; Mark Duplass as a geeky loner with a heart of gold who (spoilers!) she falls for; Jake Johnson as a thirtysomething returning to his small hometown after years in the big city to reconnect with a lost love… If it’s beginning to sound like a checklist of indie plot points then, well, it’s not that bad — this isn’t Indie Movie. While none of the story threads unfold with as much uniqueness as the initial set-up promises, and do occasionally nudge towards thumb-twiddling familiarity, they’re not so rote as to be a total write off. Towards the end, it’s even managed to build up enough steam to offer an effective and somewhat affecting final act.

Trevorrow’s direction is solid. There’s nothing wrong with it, but equally I saw little to mark it out from any other low-budget indie dramedy. I don’t see what here particularly earnt him the instantaneous fast-track move to mega-budget blockbuster-making — directors who previously made that leap at least had the courtesy to go via a mid-budget feature or two following their dirt-cheap debut. Not a DeloreanMaybe I’m missing something, I don’t know, but where other directors currently making a similar transition (Gareth Edwards, Josh Trank, Duncan Jones) showed some signs of a reason for the upgrade in their debut and/or sophomore features, I can’t fathom what singled Trevorrow out. He seems to have done alright with it though, so never mind.

Safety Not Guaranteed has enough tweaks to the expected format that fans of the genre will lap it up (as evidenced by any online comment section you choose to check out), and I guess casual viewers who are predisposed to its particular set of traits will like it more than they like other examples of the same; but, the closing moments aside, I don’t think it’s anything like as unique as some people seem to think it is.

3 out of 5

Safety Not Guaranteed is on Film4 tonight at 12:10am.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

2015 #20
Wes Anderson | 96 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.37:1 + 1.85:1 + 2.35:1 | USA, UK & Germany / English | 15 / R

The Grand Budapest HotelThe latest from cult auteur Wes Anderson, which managed that rare feat of enduring from a March release to being an awards season contender, sees the peerless concierge of a magnificent mid-European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) accused of murdering a rich elderly guest (Tilda Swinton, caked in Oscar-winning prosthetics) and attempting to flee across the country to clear his name. More or less, anyway, because this is a Wes Anderson film and so it takes in all kinds of amusing asides, tangents, and recognisable cameos.

The film has the feel of an artisan confection: candy-coloured, precisely designed and constructed, sweetly enjoyable, but with a hidden bite. Something like that, anyway. There are many praises to sing along these lines. The visuals are the most obvious. As is apparent even from the trailer, the shot composition is tightly controlled, squared-off but using that formalism to its advantage in various ways. I don’t know if this is always Anderson’s style (this is only the second of his films that I’ve seen, but it was similarly employed in the other), but here it works in ways almost indefinable.

The performances are just as mannered, and equally as fantastic for similar reasons: they exist within very specific constraints, but then push at their boundaries. Fiennes displays a perhaps-surprising flair for comedy in the lead role. Apparently Johnny Depp was Anderson’s initial choice — thank goodness that didn’t happen! You can completely see Depp in the part, bringing his rote whimsy to it, but how much more entertaining it is to have Serious Actor Ralph Fiennes going somewhat against type, and playing the role beautifully too. A host of familiar faces turn up in supporting roles that display various degrees of individualistic eccentricity, and there’s no weak link, but Fiennes is the stand-out.

Not suspicious at allI suppose the kooky idiosyncrasies of Anderson’s brand of storytelling and filmmaking will rub some viewers up the wrong way, looking on it all as vacuous affectations signifying nothing. To each their own, but, whatever the merits (or not) of Anderson’s style as a kind of one-man genre played out across his oeuvre, The Grand Budapest Hotel displays a synthesis of contributing elements that creates a movie that’s ceaselessly inventive, surprising, amusing, and entirely entertaining.

5 out of 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2015, which can be read in full here.

God Bless America (2011)

2015 #37
Bobcat Goldthwait | 100 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

God Bless AmericaMad Men’s Joel Murray is Frank, a glum divorcee whose indulged daughter refuses to see him, who loses his job, and who is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Already fed up with the state of modern society, he sets about righting some wrongs. With a gun. He soon encounters Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), a disillusioned teen only too keen to join his murderous crusade.

Starting with a montage spoofing the dregs of US television, the satire initially seems a little broad… but it’s also remarkably accurate, so really it’s the fault of modern US ‘culture’ for being so inherently ridiculous. In some respects this sets the tone for the entire film: on the surface, a little too ridiculous, but that’s masking a witty comedy and surprisingly truthful character piece.

The latter is where the film’s most consistent joys are to be found. It’s carried by the charisma of the two leads; they’re a joy to spend time with, even if you for some reason objected to their righteous crusade. Of course, there is amusement elsewhere too. The violence of the killing spree is sometimes graphically depicted, but it’s all to humorous ends, in one way or another. The often-OTT tone is set early on with a particularly bloody and unacceptable murder fantasy, which may alert you to whether you’ll enjoy the film or not — it will be too much for some — but to say what happens would be to spoil it slightly.

However, the strongest vein of humour always comes from the quieter scenes where Frank and Roxy just talk. Murray has been an underrated presence in Mad MenGot herself a guna supporting character who’s come and gone over the years, initially seeming one-note but revealing more in more recent seasons — but here you get that kind of arc condensed into 90 minutes. Barr is every bit his equal, the pair forming a genuine if sometimes complicated bond. That it acknowledges but dodges the whole “mid-life-crisis man and teenage girl” iffiness is further to its credit.

God Bless America treads familiar ground, in a way: the pair on a killing spree thing; the man driven to kill by society; even the heavy satire of American culture’s extreme awfulness (also pilloried in a much weaker, even more obvious fashion in Idiocracy, for example). The film works, though, because of its commitment to the characters and its story, because of the commendable excess in the way that’s depicted, because it’s genuinely funny, and because of the charm and chemistry of its two leads. Highly recommended.

4 out of 5

God Bless America is on Film4 tonight at 11:05pm.

Bill the Galactic Hero (2014)

2014 #128
Alex Cox, Merritt Crocker, Amanda Gostomski, Danny Beard, Alicia Ramirez, Jordan Thompson & Raziel Scher | 90 mins | download | 16:9 | USA / English

Bill the Galactic HeroAlex Cox was once the director of noticed movies like Repo Man and Sid and Nancy, tipped for Hollywood success. That wasn’t really his style, though, and he wound up heading into ultra-indie territory, ultimately to “microfeatures” — films made so cheaply they fall below the Screen Actors Guild cut-off of $200,000. I confess that the only previous film of his I’ve seen is one of these: Repo Chick, a non-sequel to Repo Man that most people hate but I kinda loved. So when it turned out he was crowdfunding a new film, and a satirical science-fiction comedy at that, I jumped on it (readers with long memories may remember I mentioned it at the time). The finished result finally came out back in December, and… well…

To start at the beginning, Bill the Galactic Hero is an SF comedy novel by Harry Harrison. It’s a spoof of right-wing militaristic sci-fi, specifically Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (which was also lampooned in its own film adaptation (apparently — I’ve still not seen it)). The story sees a lad from a backwater planet, Bill (James Miller), being tricked into joining the intergalactic military, who are locked in a never-ending war with reptilian aliens called Chingers. We follow him through his training, his dispatch aboard a war(space)ship, and adventures beyond. The novel is very good — not packed with gags and perhaps not often laugh-out-loud funny, but consistently wry in its outlook. You can see it would be a tough sell as an adaptation, mind, so an alternative director like Cox is probably the perfect fit.

Colorado bouldersThe way he’s gone about filming it is as, essentially, a giant student film. Cox currently teaches film at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and it was along with his students (plus some professional colleagues from previous films) that this movie was produced — that’s partly why there’s the lengthy list of directors (Cox actually directed “most of the first act and all the third”, as discussed in this interview with Quiet Earth). For various legal reasons, it’s a not-for-profit venture; indeed, any venue in the world can acquire a good-enough-to-screen quality copy from Cox for free, so long as it’s being shown in aid of charity. (That, and other interesting points, are discussed in this interview with Boulder Weekly.) The film is also available online, for free, here. This combination of factors (student film; shown only for charity; etc) makes it a little hard to be judgemental about it — witness, for instance, this ‘review’ from Boulder Weekly. But judge we must, and, sadly, in many ways it’s just not very good.

Things start badly with a colourful animated opening. I can see why this was judged to be the most cost-effective way to relate that part of the tale, as it’s set on an alien planet and filled with background extras and future-technology, but considering the amount of cardboard-and-Sellotape set dressing later in the film, surely they could have rustled something up? I also simply don’t like the style of the animation. Its painfully-bright colourfulness provides a contrast to what follows that is nearly appropriate, Awful animationbut there’s no transition from it into the black-and-white live-action main film, just an abrupt cut (a good place to have put the title credits, at the very least!) Worst of all, no effort whatsoever is made to establish that the cartoon guy we saw being enlisted at the start is now a live-action guy with a teddybear strapped to his spacesuit. It took me a minute to get it, and I’ve read the book.

The cast are kept in full spacesuit gear the whole time. This sounded like a bad idea, and it is. It’s hard to relate to their facelessness, harder still to tell the supporting characters apart. That’s also a flaw of the screenplay and direction, neither of which allow enough time to establish anyone. A lot of the supporting cast are fleeting anyway — as I said, we follow Bill across multiple situations, each with a new group of people around him — but the potential impact of certain scenes involving characters like Eager Beager and Deathwish Drang is lost thanks to the lack of early investment. Even central Bill is lacking in personality or identifiability, particularly so considering he’s the main character. This is in some ways a problem inherited from the novel, where Bill is a blank canvas floating through his various adventures. I don’t know if that was intentional on Harrison’s part, but it didn’t work for me in the book and it doesn’t here either.

The spacesuit decisionAfter a hurried start, the film does settle down to slightly longer scenes with more of a point, like Bill’s encounter with the Laundry Officer-cum-Chaplain, and some of these work pretty well. Sadly, too much of the time it’s a race through the novel’s story, feeling like a filmed recap for those who’ve read the book. Goodness knows what someone who hasn’t would make of it all. Goodness knows if they’d even be able to follow it at all, to be frank.

Not all of the adaptation’s ideas are poor, though. The novel was written in 1965, bang in the middle of the Vietnam War. For the film, Cox has substituted the final act’s Vietnam-inspired jungle planet for an era-appropriate Middle East-inspired dustbowl. An ingenious idea, though there’s little (or no) commentary on the past couple of decades of Western military intervention once you get past that obvious observation. Ah well.

The live-action parts (i.e. most of the film) are shot on black-and-white film stock, though I’m not convinced they should have bothered — video would’ve been cheaper, and probably looked much the same in the end. That said, there’s an oppressively dark feel to much of the cinematography, with numerous deep blacks crowding in, which is surely the result of using real film. It’s quite appropriate to the story’s tone, a very dry satire of a controlling future dystopia. Conversely, the special effects look great. They’re the kind of lo-fi models-and-basic-CGI style that I had been expecting, and they nail the intended tone in a way other elements are too amateurish to quite reach.

lo-fi models and basic CGI

Unfortunately, the audio quality is quite poor. The spacesuit decision reveals itself to be a bad idea once again when it muffles all the dialogue. Halfway through one character is subtitled, and I’m not sure why — she’s just as clear as everyone else. That is to say, not very; but no one else has subtitles so why does she? Possibly this could all be to do with the film being mixed for 5.1 by people inexperienced in doing so (Cox admitted as much himself) and then poorly downmixed to stereo for the online version that I watched. Perhaps the 5.1 version on the DVD comes over better? (I do have a copy, but haven’t brought myself to watch it to find out.) The end credits scroll under a new song by Iggy Pop, which I actually rather liked.

The sad thing is, I think the film could have been so much better. And I don’t mean by making it ‘properly’, either. Cox has shown he can make microfeatures work, and I don’t believe student films (which this essentially is) are fundamentally meritless. Even the production values, low-rent as they are, are fine if that’s what you’re expecting (and, given the film’s background, you should be). No, the problem lies in the storytelling: a pace that rushes through the novel at such speed that only someone familiar with it could keep up; a lack of time spent establishing characters and situations; rough editing and sound design that obscure elements and, without any breathing room elsewhere, leave you no space to work out the gaps and catch up.

HandyBill the Galactic Hero might be best described as a noble failure. It’s been created with the best of intentions, both in terms of adapting a quality novel that Hollywood had no interest in, and in training up a new generation of filmmakers in an independent and proactive way. It’s a shame the end result isn’t wholly as enjoyable as it might’ve been.

2 out of 5

Bill the Galactic Hero is now available to stream or download, for free, on Vimeo.

Spanking the Monkey (1994)

2014 #100
David O. Russell | 95 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 18

Spanking the MonkeyThe debut of writer-director David O. Russell sees college student Raymond forced by his controlling father to turn down an exciting summer internship to care for his invalided mother.

Cue a very ’90s indie dramedy that is most memorably concerned with matters sexual: after Raymond struggles to find privacy to masturbate, he engages in a stuttering relationship with a younger girl and, somewhat infamously, gets incestuous with his mother. It’s hard to decipher the point, especially when instead of ending the film just stops.

Spottily entertaining, history has rendered Spanking the Monkey merely an early curio from a now-famous director.

3 out of 5

In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long. You’ve just read one.

Alter Egos (2012)

2014 #30
Jordan Galland | 74 mins* | streaming | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Alter EgosYou might not think superheroes lend themselves to the ultra-low-budget indie treatment, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and clearly writer-director Jordan Galland had a will.

In the world of Alter Egos, superheroes are an everyday thing, blessed with unexciting powers and public disinterest. (Don’t look too closely — this is an indie comedy, not a “what would actually happen?” scenario.) Two of these chaps — Fridge and C-Thru (guess their powers!) — wind up at a quiet out-of-season hotel, where one has captured a wanted supervillain. While they debate what to do, Fridge falls for the hero-hating receptionist. A mix of romantic hijinks and complex backstory exposition ensue.

Anyone after superhero thrills isn’t going to find it here. The fundamentals of the plot wouldn’t be too out of place in a ‘real’ superhero movie, but the indie stylings don’t provide much scope for special effects spectaculars or indulgent action sequences. Equally, fans of the indie comedy genre may find it too silly. It’s a crossover between two niche genres that, rather than transcend such roots, ends up being even more niche — it may fulfil those who are in the area where the superhero/indie-comedy Venn diagram overlaps, but no one else.

Super? Heroes?Personally, I rather liked it. It’s a little cheap, talky, and not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but it has some charm, a healthy-enough dose of professional filmmaking (I’ve seen plenty of efforts that are more amateurish), and a brisk running time that makes for a pleasant diversion. If you think you might find yourself in the sweet spot of the aforementioned diagram, it’s worth a go.

3 out of 5

* The IMDb-listed running time is 80 minutes. That would make the PAL time 77 minutes, which the BBFC confirm. I watched it on Now TV, where it definitely ran 74. Did they PAL-speed-up the PAL-sped-up version? Who knows. ^

Beyond the Pole (2009)

2011 #91
David L. Williams | 87 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | UK / English | 15

Beyond the PoleAdapted from a cult Radio 4 series, Beyond the Pole is a British mockumentary about “the first carbon neutral, vegetarian and organic expedition ever to attempt the North Pole”, starring Stephen Mangan Off Green Wing and other recognisable faces.

In case it wasn’t clear, this is a comedy. Unfortunately it’s only mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud hilarious. Worse still, it’s occasionally a bit thumb-twiddly as the inevitable plot points inevitably happen. In fact, it goes a bit OTT with implausibility for my liking. The pair of polar ‘explorers’ are attempting this with no training at all? Their UK base/contact is a caravan in a field with some satellite dishes on top? The performances and shooting style are too grounded to sell this kind of thing to me. Most of the film is asking you to believe that this is, while clearly a comedy, still plausible, but some of these points don’t quite gel.

Even after that, it still goes a bit awry as the story heads into the third act. Events get too serious for the farcical comedy it started out as. I believe it’s possible to make that transition from comedy to meaningful, serious drama — often making the dramatic section all the more effective because it surprises you — but Beyond the Pole doesn’t manage it at all well.

On the bright side, it doesn’t go on about the green agenda too much, which I’d presumed would be half the point. While I’m all for informing people and reminding them Something Must Be Done, battering viewers round the head with it when they’re expecting to enjoy a nice comedy is perhaps not the best way to go about it.

Phone pole... see what I did there?It’s also impressively realised. Its apparent low budget led me to assume we’d, a) see very little of the actual trip, and b) what we did see would be all inside-a-tent and green-screened. But no, it was really shot on floating sea ice off the coast of Greenland, and it makes for a highly effective polar landscape. Good work, filmmakers.

Sadly, being impressed they managed to get some good locations and a recognisable cast (Mark Benton! Helen Baxendale! Alexander Skarsgård! (Random.) Lots of newsreaders from the BBC, Newsnight, Sky — clearly someone had favours to call in) does not make up for the lack of serious laughs in a comedy. Oh well.

2 out of 5

Beyond the Pole featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2011, which can be read in full here.

Juno (2007)

2010 #25
Jason Reitman | 92 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

This review contains minor spoilers.

Juno followed in the footsteps of films like Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine to be the token Little Indie That Could among 2008’s Best Picture nominees. It was also the highest-grossing film on the list, no doubt thanks to America’s abundant Christians thinking it was all about an anti-abortion message. I’m sure these conflicting facts (the indie-ness and top-grosser, not the Christian thing) say more about the Oscars’ nominating form in the past decade than they do about Juno.

Fortunately, there’s enough to Juno to allow it stand up for itself. The most discussed aspect is Diablo Cody’s screenplay, with its idiosyncratic slang-laden dialogue and accusations that every character speaks the same. The first is true, the latter is rubbish, and one has to wonder if whoever thinks it watched beyond the first ten minutes. Most of the film’s teenage characters speak similarly… in that they use the same bits of slang, have similar speech patterns, employ a similar sense of humour — you know, like groups of teenagers tend to. Their related adults speak broadly similarly, but also differently; the higher-class couple Juno chooses to adopt her baby to speak differently again — but none are pathetically “I am trying to sound different”-different like you can find in weak writing. It’s just natural. I struggle to see how anyone can honestly say that all the characters “speak the same” in a way that isn’t true to life. Perhaps Cody has generously made Juno and her fellow teens wittier and quicker than the real-life majority, but this is a scripted drama and that’s what happens to your hero characters.

Cody’s dialogue, and what the cast do with it, are the film’s standout aspects. It’s quite a wordy screenplay, so it’s good that it’s a joy to listen to. The realistic overuse of slang by some characters occasionally greats, but the plentiful laugh-out-loud beats more than make up for it. The “I wish I’d say that” quality in some of Juno’s responses to familiar situations quickly make her an identifiable, memorable and loveable character, expertly played by Ellen Page — lead roles like this and Hard Candy show she’s one to watch, and add another mark against X-Men 3 for wasting her talents on such an insignificant (in the film) part.

Every supporting part is equally pitch-perfect: J.K. Simmons’ endlessly supportive father; Allison Janney’s stepmom, granted a gift of a rant at an ultrasound operator; Jennifer Garner’s earnest, desperate wannabe-mother; Olivia Thirlby’s teacher-loving best friend. Jason Bateman redeems himself in my eyes from his not-Marc-Warren turn in State of Play, while my pre-judgement of Michael Cera (Superbad? Year One? They sound dreadful) is half erased by being good as an appropriate-but-still-niggling character (Mr MacGuff and Leah summarise it best: “I didn’t think he had it in him.” “I know, right?”)

The film’s success in America is slightly baffling, which is why I merrily attribute it to Juno considering an abortion and then turning away. There’s underage sex, swearing, numerous displays of teen independence, divorce, love of rock music and horror films… All that’s missing from a Middle American Mom’s worst nightmare is drugs (there’s no violence either, but we know them there yankees love a bit of that). The whole thing worries the boundaries of its 12 certificate, I’m sure (being a recent film, the BBFC explain/justify), not that such things affect its quality as a film.

The backlash against Cody’s screenplay had me all prepared to find Juno a samey, wannabe-cool and lacking experience, but it isn’t. It’s consistently funny, occasionally moving, and only infrequently irritating (usually when it comes across as stereotypically indie). As the comedy-indie entry in the Academy’s 2008 choices, its worthy of its predecessors, and I consider that praise indeed.

4 out of 5