Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Allison Janney, JK Simmons, Olivia Thirlby, Rainn Wilson with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner
While the tendency might be to lump Juno, the sophomore feature from director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) and first-time writer Diablo Cody into the group (new genre?) of quirky comedies, a la I *Heart* Huckabees, Napoleon Dynamite and Rushmore, don’t. The thing is, while it contains elements of those oddball-laden films, Juno is its own animal in that it’s smart, funny and above all, real. The film should mark the coming out of several major talents, including writer Cody and Juno herself, Ellen Page. While I won’t shoot myself if Cody doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, I will be gobsmacked. While we’re at it, how about one for Page, too?
Juno MacGuff is 16 and almost too precocious. She’s smart, funny, curious and so adorable that “cute as a button” might have been coined with Page in mind. (At 5′ 1″, according to the IMDb she was apparently given the nickname “The Tiny Canadian” by some American roommates.) Well adjusted and comfortable in her own skin, Juno is the kind of kid every parent would love to have…except that she’s pregnant, the result of a one time romp with her best friend Paulie Bleeker in a living room chair. Bleeker is played perfectly in another example of deadpan wonder by comedy god of the under 30 set, Michael Cera (Superbad) as a charmingly nerdy track star with an addiction to orange tic tacs.
Along with dad, Juno lives with stepmother Bren (Allison Janney) and half-sister Liberty Bell (Sierra Pitkin) and goes to school with best gal pal Leah (Olivia Thirlby) who arguably has one of the two best lines in the film and no, I am not going to tell you what it is. When Juno discovers her pregnancy, she initially decides to “procure a hasty abortion,” but later thinks better of that and decides to have the baby and give it to a deserving couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, who she finds via an ad in the Penny Saver, natch). Of course, this wouldn’t be much a movie if all the plans went smoothly, so rest assured, there’s real comedy, real emotions and more than a couple of genuinely touching moments.
Cody’s dialog is rapid-fire and overwhelmingly smart, something some critics have taken exception to. For example, Juno refers to herself in advanced pregnancy as a “cautionary whale” and to father-to-be Bleeker as being “good in chair.” When informed of this, gruff but endearingly loving father Mac (J.K. Simmons) says “I didn’t think he had it in him.” The thing is, if you think about it, it’s not that the dialog is too precocious for a 16 year-old girl, it’s that we’ve forgotten that we’ve all met kids this smart and self-aware. Maybe it’s bluster to cover up for some self-doubts or other insufficiency, but Juno is not a caricature. She’s level headed (except when she’s not), smart (except when she’s dumb) and friendly (except when she’s sullen)…in other words, a teenager, albeit an uncommon one. She’s smarter and better adjusted than most and so what? If the choice is either outsized characters like Max Fischer and Napoleon Dynamite or an “average” teen, I’ll take door number three, please. Not that I don’t love Rushmore, but Juno isn’t trying to be that. It’s decidedly more grounded in reality, even if it does have a 16 year-old making a Soupy Sales joke.
As I said at the top, the stars of this pic are Page and the writing of Cody. In the hands of a lesser actress, Cody’s dialog might indeed have sounded stretched and unbelievable, but Page is an actress of remarkable talent and style. Keep an eye on her, because she’s special and so is Juno. The film comes out in December in the US and apparently Reitman was rather insistent on the holiday season release. It might just pay off for Searchlight as a brilliant bit of counter programming. Let’s hope so, because this is indeed a special film.