The first five minute of Juno left me groaning. The folk/indie/emo soundtrack was one thing, and then as soon as the credit sequence ends, we're treated to Rainn Wilson making a cameo as a small-town convenience store clerk who spouts dialogue so insincerely "clever"Â that I wanted to strangle myself.
Oh no, I thought. For the next three months I'm going to have to explain to everyone why I hate this movie while everyone else loves it. Just like Napoleon Dynamite.
But, fantastically, the dialogue tones down a bit after the dangerous opening – still whip-smart and quirky, but somehow sweeter. We are introduced to Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), a sixteen-year-old girl who finds out she's pregnant, and the people in her world: her dad and stepmom (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney), her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), and her other friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), the father.
At first, abortion is the only option, but Juno gets cold feet and apparently decides that, like Knocked Up, that would make the movie way too short. So she grits her teeth, tells her parents, and decides to give it up for adoption to a yuppie couple who put an ad in the paper, played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman.
All of this is just the setup. And in and of itself, it's not necessarily a setup that has you rushing to the theater. But Juno, directed by Jason Reitman, is wonderful, thanks largely to its charming screenplay by newcomer Diablo Cody.
The story is surprisingly engrossing, and goes a few places I wouldn't have predicted "” it keeps toying with how you should feel about the adoptive parents, for example, and the journey is continually surprising while still sticking true to the characters. As such, the movie feels legitimately unique even as it follows a few familiar coming-of-age beats. Your first inclination might be to think that Juno acts and talks too smart for her age, but despite her wit, like all teenagers, she thinks she's a lot smarter than she actually is.
Juno also achieves that perfect balance between funny and moving; it's often hilarious, with a few pitch-perfect running jokes, but I came perilously close to crying during the final scenes, and a quick look around the internet tells me I'm not the only one. I'm a sucker for honest portraits of high school kids, and this gets a lot of details just right "” girls flirting with ugly teachers; Paulie's understated awkwardness; the infuriating, constant use of the phrase "sexually active."Â
Good writing, of course, allows the characters to drive the plot instead of the other way around, and everything in Juno stems directly from the characters: the plot, the humor, and the emotion. True, some of the characters are labeled with nothing but a few "quirky
attributes,"Â Little Miss Sunshine
-style, but that's where the actors come in handy.
In lesser hands, these people all could've been caricatures. But Cera, fresh off Superbad, is charming and satisfyingly subtle as Paulie. Thirlby has real appeal in the simple best friend role. And Simmons and Janney seem to exude small-town homey-ness from their bones. Garner and Bateman might have the toughest jobs "” we're never quite sure until later whether one, both, or neither of them are meant to be the villain "” and both of their performances are surprisingly brave.
And of course there's Juno herself, Ellen Page, the young actress from Hard Candy and X-Men: The Last Stand. She's perfect in the role: at once intelligent, oblivious, witty, vulnerable, and of course, lovable.
If I'm being too vague in my review, it's because I developed such affection for the movie that I'd rather let the movie just work its charms on you. Cynics, you may scoff at the clever-quirky dialogue, but just wait until your defense mechanisms melt away, and you realize you're watching a truly great film.
Movie Grade: A
“Juno” stars Ellen Page as the title character, a whip-smart teen confronting an unplanned pregnancy by her classmate Bleeker (Cera). With the help of her hot best friend Leah (Thirlby), Juno finds her unborn child a “perfect” set of parents: an affluent suburban couple, Mark and Vanessa (Bateman and Garner), longing to adopt. Luckily, Juno has the total support of her parents (Simmons and Janney) as she faces some tough decisions, flirts with adulthood and ultimately figures out where she belongs.