I have never seen anything like tonight’s promotional screening of Juno (12/5, Fox Searchlight) in Boston, which was followed by a Q&A with director Jason Reitman—I’ve been home for a few hours now, and my face still literally hurts from smiling so much.
I was lucky enough to see Juno for the first time at its now-legendary screening in Toronto back on 9/8, and it blew me away. Now, nearly three months later, with the heart of Oscar season soon to be upon us, I felt I should see it again to determine if it is really as good as I remembered it. I found that out, and much more…
I had business in the neighborhood of the theater, so I decided to drop in about two hours before the screening and ask the theater manager which screening room it would be shown in. When I found him, I saw approximately 300 people patiently sitting on the floor in the lobby. I asked him what was going on, having never before seen anything like that in that or any theater… they were all waiting, he informed me, to see Juno… two hours before it was supposed to begin! Before long, the crowd swelled to over 500 people, and the theater manager had to make the following announcement: “Folks, can you please keep it down? The people in the theater next-door can hear you!”
Now, publicists almost always give away more passes to promo screenings than they actually have seats for, because (a) they never expect all the people who take them to actually show up, and (b) they want to make sure they have a full house. In this case, so many people came out that they didn’t know what to do with them! Eventually, the theater management determined that ‘late arrivals’—people arriving only an hour -and-a-half before showtime—had to be turned away. Then, they tried to seat those who had made the cut, but after a short while realized they needed to relocate everyone to a larger theater, which they proceeded to do.
I asked the theater manager, who is on duty every night, if he had ever seen anything like this for a promo screening. He said the only ones that had generated this sort of turnout were Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films.
I decided to stick around during the long wait before the screening to speak with some of the people in line and try to understand (a) who they were, (b) where they heard about this screening, (c) what they knew about Juno, and (d) why they were willing to show up more than two hours early and wait around for a chance to see it. I found many of their answers to be illuminating, and came away convinced that Juno is going to have a Superbad type of showing at the box-office. Here are some of the stories:
- Nathan Wahl, age 19, is a sophomore at Emerson. He came with his girlfriend, Shandi Mahan-Fortunato, also 19, a sophomore at Simmons. Shandi heard about the screening on a Facebook group organized by Northeastern and Boston University students, and suggested to Nathan that they attend. Nathan says he was anxious to see the film because he “fell in love” with Michael Cera after seeing Superbad and would be willing to see anything with him. Shandi had seen Ellen Page in X-Men 3 and found her to be “awesome.”
- Colby Grenier, age 26, runs a rock band’s web site, and came with his buddy Jeff Haidaczuk, age 27, a carpenter. Grenier said the trailer made him want to see the film, and grabbed up two tickets via Facebook.
- Lily Jimenez and her classmate Maria Z. are both 22 year old juniors at Northeastern. They said they heard about the Facebook group from a friend, and did not have to think twice about attending. Maria is smitten with “adorable” Cera, and says she read reviews of the film online that led her to check out the trailer, which sealed the deal—she ate up the sarcasm and quotable lines.
- Andrew Curran, age 23, came alone. The aspiring filmmaker, who briefly attended the New York Film Academy, decided to attend after receiving a flyer that mentioned Juno was directed by Jason Reitman. “I’m a big Reitman fan,” he says, adding “I liked Thank You for Smoking a lot.” He checked out the trailer in advance to get a sense of what the film would be about, and felt it “plays really, really, really well,” singling out the closing line about “shennanigans” as the highlight.
- Jay Yang, age 18, is a freshman film student at Emerson, and a true cineaste—he says he, too, is a Reitman lover, dating back to Reitman’s short In God We Trust, through his Ford television commercials, and right through to Thank You for Smoking, which he “really loved.” When he heard Rainn Wilson’s line in the trailer about “one doodle that can’t be undid,” he knew he had to see Reitman’s latest film at the earliest opportunity.
- Scott Clayton, an 18 year old Emerson freshman, came along with his girlfriend Danielle Schneider, also 18 and an Emerson frosh, and their mutual friend Ryan Sheppard, a 20 year old Emerson sophomore, after Ryan procured passes via Facebook. Ryan volunteered, “I like Jason Reitman a lot. That’s why I’m here.” Danielle mentioned that passes and posters had been distributed around the Emerson campus, as well. Scott, meanwhile, was pumped, having seen Thank You for Smoking “two or three times,” loved Michael Cera in Arrested Development and Superbad, and been tremendously impressed with Ellen Page in Hard Candy.
By the time the credits rolled, the critic next to me was crying, the audience was applauding, and one industrious new fan snatched the promotional foam-board poster at the front of the theater and bolted for the door. Reitman, meanwhile, came out and proceeded to further charm the crowd with his usual self-deprecating humor and graciousness. He got a lot of laughs, especially when he mentioned that “Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, and I all had a baby around the time the film was made.” When a few people started laughing, he caught on and joked, “Yes, we all a baby together, the three of us,” before quickly adding, “Actually, I better remember what city I’m in… I’m going to walk out of here and, like, Jim Affleck is gonna punch me in the face.”
When the Q&A session ended, dozens of people mobbed him at the front of the theater. In a move unlike anything I have ever seen from a filmmaker at a promo screening, he chatted with a bunch before telling the others, “Let’s take this outside. I want to talk to every one of you,” and did just that, spending about forty-five minutes in the lobby posing for photos, signing swag, and chatting with each and every person—including a young theater usher seeking advice on what to do with a script he has written in his spare time—until there were none left.
The whole evening reminded me of why I love Juno… and also created a few hundred new fans who will undoubtedly start spreading the news: get fired up for December 5.