Films that center around pregnant women, in this case a teenage girl, are nothing new, especially this year. Then how is it in 2007 the concept produces winner after winner? Damn good writing. The late Adrienne Shelly’s script to the romantic comedy Waitress was fresh and charming while Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was a memorable, uproarious, character driven sex comedy. Now we have Juno, a low key, pleasant teen-life comedy that may be the best of the trio. I don’t think it’s perfect and it just misses on being one of the year’s best. It overplays the quirky card in the beginning and the so-called ‘hipster’ dialogue results in a few awkward dead-spots, but, like Knocked Up, the film is very character driven with excellent performances from the entire ensemble cast, specifically Ellen Page as the titular Juno.
The film, directed by Jason Reitman, who is compensating for the overrated and dull Thank You For Smoking, focuses on the reality that a teen lives through each day, a reality that they probably don’t fully understand. Thankfully, Reitman never beats around the bush about the obstacles and peer pressures teens go through. One of those obstacles is just getting caught up in the moment. “It all started with a chair.” That first line comes from Juno MacGuff, a 16-year old free-spirit who makes the decision to have sex with her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera from this year’s other and equally good teen comedy Superbad). Nearly three months later, she finds out that she is pregnant. Unable to go through with an abortion, Juno decides to find a couple to adopt her child. They discover Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner who co-starred together in the action flick The Kingdom) who appear to be a match made-in-heaven for the baby. Having been unable to produce any progeny of their own, the Lorings agree to adopt Juno’s child.
While it has its moments, I don’t think the humor in Juno is what stands out the most. Rather it’s the terrifically written and developed characters. Writer Diablo Cody, who is garnering a swarm of Oscar buzz for her debut script, allows each character to stand on their own and there is not a supporting character to be found that we don’t get to know and enjoy. We don’t just fall in love with Juno, we get involved with everyone whose lives have been touched by her. I actually found the relationship chemistry, or lack there of, between Vanessa and Mark to be the most interesting part of the film. The final act is blessedly unconventional, just as real life is. There’s a plot twist that isn’t necessarily unpredictable but it is ingenious with it’s timeliness. This script rivals that of Nancy Oliver’s Lars and the Real Girl as the most impressive comedic debut of the fall season.
Ellen Page, who is also getting Oscar buzz, is certainly a gifted young actress. She is particularly good in a very poignant scene towards the end when reality hits after a perfect plan starts to go up in flames. She’s also very funny and quite charming. You can see throughout the film that Page is just in that actors ‘zone’ where she seems to becoming a teenage pregnant girl named Juno rather than playing one.
The stellar supporting cast includes Cera, Bateman, and Garner, along with J.K. Simmons as Juno’s father and Allison Janney as her stepmother. In my opinion, it is Bateman who stands above all else as a man torn between two loves, his wife and his passion for music (he was in a band before he got married). He’s a man who sees himself in Juno which is why the two spend so much time together. It’s as if he is only trying to hang on to that person he was in his youth. Somebody please give this guy a leading role. Garner is also very good as Vanessa, who longs to be a mother more than anything. Simmons and Janney are of course the pawns that deliver the inspirational advice but they also provide the majority of the comic relief. Finally, who else can play a well-intentioned, likable teenage boy better than Michael Cera?
Although I was skeptical at first due to Juno’s quirkiness, a flaw that proved to be fatal to this year’s earlier teen comedy Rocket Science, I was won over by the endlessly fascinating characters that were accompanied by seamless performances all-around. This little indy charmer may score another point for the comedy genre with an Oscar for best original screenplay after Little Miss Sunshine did it last year. I’ve never been one to praise comedies often. Rare do I find a small miracle like Little Miss Sunshine. Juno isn’t quite that good from my standpoint, but it may still be my favorite comedy of the year.
The Upside: Great, memorable characters.
The Downside: A little too quirky and hipster dialogue.
On the Side: Diablo Cody owns hamburger phone that Juno uses.