Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby
PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexual content and language)
A film sometimes too precious for its own good, Juno turns a girl’s accidental pregnancy into a comedic farce about maturity and relationships.
Ellen Page, hot off her great debut in Hard Candy, takes her acerbic wit and turns it towards the character Juno MacGuff. Juno’s a high school student who convinces her boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) to sleep with her and ends up pregnant as a result. Instead of turning into the typical “how do I deal with being pregnant” comedy, the film instead focuses on Juno’s decision to keep the baby and put it up for adoption.
She finds a couple wanting to adopt through the local newspaper and chooses them to raise her baby. Juno bonds quickly with Mark Loring (Jason Bateman) while remaining at a distance from his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Mark’s into guitars, rock music and horror films, which falls in line with Juno’s interests. Mark joyfully allows himself to be diverted, having been forced into maturity by his wife. It’s their relationship, platonic as it may be, that causes much of the film’s strife.
Page’s work in Hard Candy showed that she has a dark wit that we’ve not seen since Christina Ricci started out, at a much younger age, in The Addams Family. She shows a maturity that seems wildly inappropriate for her age. Here, she expands upon that talent with another darkly comic role. Her deadpan style of delivery mixed with her age make for an interesting, if not disingenuous, performance.
Much her superior are many of the film’s other players who’ve each made careers out of comic turns. Bateman is the best of the lot, creating a sympathetic malcontent. Mark is a loving, but ultimately dissatisfied husband who glows in those few moments he gets to spend with the severely-his-junior Juno. Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons are perfectly cast as Juno’s accepting parents. Their early moments discussing the other potentially devastating events she could have revealed to them is probably one of the film’s better moments.
Cera and Olivia Thirlby as Juno’s best friend Leah deliver the kind of authentic teenaged performances you would have expected. While they still have some maturing to do in the realm of acting, they prove they were more than up to the challenge of starring alongside Page. Then there’s Garner. She hasn’t been good since her days on the television hit Alias. She seems to have forgotten how to act since then in such dismal films as Elektra. However, here she somewhat redeems herself. Her minimally domineering performance is soft, gentle and measured. Perhaps it just takes a good director to bring the best out of her.
Jason Reitman’s directing style helps Juno succeed as much as anything. As he proved with his auspicious debut Thank You for Smoking, Reitman’s ability to convey complex social satire while keeping a witty edge is admirable. He’s certainly taken a different trajectory than his father, Ivan, who had a penchant for excessive, broad comedy. Jason has focused on tighter, more subversive comedy.
The screenplay, written by stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody is filled with lingo and slang the measure of which hasn’t been seen in popular cinema since the 1980s. While much of it seems a bit too over-the-top at times, it helps in creating a believable cast of characters that each have positive aspects for which to cheer.
Juno may not be your typical coming-of-age comedy, but there’s a genuineness to the lead character. She’s frank without being overzealous and how often to do you find a film that discusses the adoption option effectively?
January 24, 2008