Director: Jason Reitman
Script: Diablo Cody
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby
When sixteen year old Juno MacGuff finds she is pregnant, she does not cry nor panic. Instead, she breaks into a chain of hip and intelligent quips worthy of a feminist Woody Allen, unlit pipe protruding from corner of mouth.
Sure, Juno is a pretentious movie, one in which suburban teens are better equipped for life than their parents, and everyday conversations descend into plugs for Mott the Hoople and Sonic Youth. But it’s also a movie with heart, of a sincerity often reserved for European cinema. Unlike the recent Brick, in which adolescents spoke in a similarly hip tongue, Juno’s dialogue works; despite the eponymous mother-to-be’s nonchalant exterior it soon becomes apparent that she is a frightened little girl hiding behind big words.
Juno is a role that could not have been played by anyone but Ellen Page. At only eighteen she has turned in an Oscar worthy performance. Her cute, unblemished features contain a maturity (already exploited to excruciating effect in Hard Candy) which somehow makes Diablo Cody’s – former stripper and overnight Hollywood hot property – potentially disastrous dialogue shine.
But it’s not just Page who excels; the supporting cast are equally superb. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are a riot as Juno’s offhandedly caring parents, while Superbad’s Michael Cera is sympathetic as the placid, oblivious Paulie Bleeker, progenitor of Juno’s ever expanding bump. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman turn the potentially dull Loring family, who plan to adopt the anonymous baby, into a relationship so perfect it can only end wretchedly. (Rule of Cinema no 134: when we are introduced to an affluent white couple with a spick and span domicile, it is naturally assumed they are concealing an enduring unhappiness)
Cody’s script remains tender despite its incessantly blunt self-awareness. The characters may not be realistic, but neither are they unbelievable; Juno and Paulie are decidedly more human than the vacant adolescents usually depicted in this genre. Jason “son-of-Ivan” Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) gets the balance between visual flair and restrained ambience just right; Juno’s three season/act structure pretty much paces itself.
It’s difficult not to fall in love with Juno’s energy. In an era of dense, contrived plots struggling to meet a 100 minute running time, there’s something so raw and youthful about Juno’s extraneous final scene, in which Page and Cera sing to each other while strumming acoustic guitars. You’ll miss these guys once the credits roll.