I’m late with the movie review, I know. I’ve resisted seeing Juno because I had trouble visualizing a female Napoleon Dynamite-like character. Could the bizarre, backwards character immortalized by Jon Heder be improved upon? Should it even have been attempted? The answers to those questions are: It certainly can be improved upon (most everything can be); and No, it shouldn’t have been attempted, but I’m glad Jason Reitman took the chance. He’s made his poppa, Ivan Reitman, proud with this dark comedy.
It turns out, Juno is a marvelously told story and I shouldn’t have waited so long to see it. It’s about a odd, smarter-beyond-her-years (which makes her an outcast), 16-year old girl, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) who, in a moment of weakness, gets herself pregnant by pencil-thin, track star Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Acting with nonchalance, which is how she generally carriers herself, she seeks to undo the deed quietly, by getting an abortion. That plan goes to hell – she claims it’s because of little aggravations (the clinic smells, old magazines in the waiting room) but it’s clear the real reason is because she learns fetuses have fingernails and beating hearts. It’s our first glimpse through her wise-ass exterior. Plan B, is to have the baby and find adoptive parents. After gaining the confidence of her friend, Leah (Olivia Thirby), she musters the courage to tell her parents Mac (J.K. Simmons) and Bren (Allison Janney). With their support and 30 seconds of searching through the local Penny Saver newspaper, she settles upon Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), a young, yuppie couple from a town far removed from her own.
With the cast of characters solidified, we follow Juno through her pregnancy (marked by 4 seasonal Acts). Reitman deftly captures breakout moments that bring us closer to the hearts of the young girl and her immediate support network. Several scenes really standout – her first ultrasound, where it finally hits her that there is a life in her body and where her mom steadfastly defends her against a holier-than-thou technician; the seemingly inappropriate meetings with Mark, where it becomes apparent that Juno is actually more of an adult than he is; the moment when Vanessa coaxes the baby to kick for her; and when Juno finally realizes she has deeper feelings for Paulie and he reciprocates. Connecting these moments is the razor-sharp writing by first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody and one hell of a catchy soundtrack consisting mostly of indie/folk music performed by Kimya Dawson.
But the standout of Juno is Ellen Page, who acts well-beyond her years. I can’t fathom how her performance here doesn’t garner her an Oscar nomination. The role of the cool, indifferent Juno MacGuff would certainly have been unlikable and would have floundered without Ellen’s instincts and comedic timing. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman show the working relationship they had in The Kingdom wasn’t a fluke. Both put on a good show playing the adoptive parents with different points of view – one in nesting mode and one in flight mode.
The only gripe I have about the film, is that while the writing is high caliber, there were just too many attempts to make the characters hip and in vogue while at the same time trying like hell to maintain them as outcasts. Case in point: the dialogue. Every other word out of Juno’s mouth is obscure and fashionable – I’ve yet to meet anyone from the real world who actually speaks like that and if I did, I’d tell them to stop. Immediately.
Aside from that minor inconvenience, Juno is a movie you should take the time to check out, if you haven’t already. It takes a serious subject (teen pregnancy, if you’ve forgotten) and makes it non-preachy and funny, in a higher brow sort of way. It is very much recommended.