Monday, February 18, 2008


Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is pregnant by her track nerd best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Certain she can’t possibly be mature enough to raise a child, she scours the Penny Saver for some “Desperately Seeking Spawn” ads, and finds apparently picture perfect couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to be the adoptive parents.
The rest is all gestation, hormones, and the vagaries of the human heart.

Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Thank You For Smoking, Juno, displays a snarkily sensitive charm thanks in large part to an Oscar-nominated script by Diablo Cody. Informing the film with a likewise Oscar-nominated turn, Page’s on-point performance has also helped Juno take the Little Movie That Could road previously traveled by Little Miss Sunshine, a road that’s taken it all the way to Oscar Night.
Aside from Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay nominations, the film also got nods for Best Director and Best Picture.
At the time of this review’s writing, it’s also grossed more than $100 million at the US box office, thus turning out to be, much like its title character, a charming anomaly. Little indie movies like this don’t normally gross in the nine figure range. But Juno’s found its audience, and for small movies like this, that’s always a good thing.

As much as Ellen Page takes center stage here (and has got the Oscar nomination to prove it), the rest of Juno’s cast is likewise fantastic, made up of comic gems like Arrested Development’s Bateman and Cera, and Spider-Man‘s J.K. Simmons and The West Wing‘s Allison Janney, who play Mac and Bren, Juno’s father and stepmother. Even Garner—as the woman who has everything she could want, except the possibility of ever being a biological mother—is good here, and I’m not normally a big Garner fan.
Naturally, it helps when the script actually provides the cast with interesting characters to portray. It’s refreshing when a film about a teen-ager doesn’t depict its adult characters (particularly the teen-ager’s parents) as well-meaning, bumbling idiots. Mac and Bren are the sort of parents you’d want to have in your corner, if you ever found yourself in a tight spot: capable, no-nonsense, and funny.
The prospective adoptive couple are likewise not your cookie cutter rich fat cats hungry for a cute little bundle of joy, though they may first appear to be.
And then there’s Juno…

Apparently, Juno has struck a major chord with the American youth. As the film has achieved the movie Nirvana of mainstream crossover success (even its soundtrack has sold remarkably well), it’s turned out that Juno is the sort of teen-aged girl a lot of teen-aged girls wish they could be.
Juno isn’t the kind of teen-ager other young actresses get to play on the big screen. You won’t find Juno in a Lindsey Lohan or Amanda Bynes movie. Think the confidence and self-assurance of Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You and the alterna-geekiness of Thora Birch in Ghost World, and you’d get a very rough idea of Juno.
Diablo Cody has inadvertently created a surprising role model for young girls, and Reitman found just the right Juno in Page. Film geeks will know her from David Slade’s Hard Candy. Mainstream movie-going audiences will know her as Kitty Pride/Shadowcat from Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. From this point on though, Juno will be the character she’ll be remembered for for the foreseeable future.

Now, when I say that Juno’s become a role model for the youth, I certainly don’t mean 16-year-olds who get to see Juno will suddenly want to get knocked up. I’m saying that in Juno, teen-aged girls can see that if they do end up in a hairy situation (like, though not limited to, pregnancy), that, given a certain level of maturity and a great support system, they can come out the other side of a potentially life-altering turn of events, their sanity and snark intact.

Admittedly though, Juno is, like the Lorings, not exactly picture perfect.
The first scene where we see Juno interact with someone (The Office’s Rainn Wilson) comes off as a tad clunky, with dialogue that feels slightly contrived. But thankfully, things smoothen out as we progress into the film.
Then there’s also the narrative’s approach to the pregnancy itself. There’s a brief flirtation with the reality of abortion, and a cursory reference to it during Juno’s conversation with her parents about her condition, then she’s decided on her course of action, and that’s it. The story’s pretty much locked in on that, and Juno never seems to acknowledge the possibility of how she’ll feel once the child is born, that there will be no succumbing to some inherent maternal instinct that will kick in once her water breaks.
Somehow, this scenario doesn’t quite play out the way the situation would probably unfold in real life. Given the perennially hot-button seriousness of what this film is about, the slightly fanciful approach to the subject matter may strike some as being inappropriate.
Granted, there are some bumps on this road, but by and large, the world Juno lives in seems a whole lot less messy than real life, and the character seems a whole lot more certain than all us normal folk.
Which is probably why she’s become such a role model. So I guess in the end that’s probably a good thing.
(And if it makes any sort of difference, I have less issues with Juno than I did with Little Miss Sunshine.)

Ultimately, Juno is one of those great little indies that has a prickly sense of humour, encased around a heart and soul that’s all warm and toasty.
It’s fun, it’s smart, and hey, it’s crashed the Oscar party.
Now if only the strike would end, so there will be a party for Juno to crash…*

* This review was written before February 12, when the WGA announced that they were ending the strike; see Afterthoughts (51).

Parting shot: Diablo Cody was honoured with the WGA Best Original Screenplay Award, coming out on top of a category that included Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, and Nancy Oliver’s Lars and the Real Girl.
Check out Afterthoughts (48) in the Archive for the other wins that made me go “Woot!”

Parting shot 2: Jason Reitman again teams-up with Diablo Cody (this time as producer) for the next movie to be made from a screenplay written by her. Jennifer’s Body (which found a spot for itself on the Black List 2007), has been described by Reitman as “what if Juno was possessed and started eating her classmates,” or something to that effect.
Last I heard, Transformers hottie Megan Gale was playing Jennifer.

(Juno OS courtesy of; Ellen Page EW cover courtesy of

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