When 16-year-old Juno MacGuff (Page) gets pregnant by her not-quite-boyfriend (Cera), she elects to have the child adopted by a wealthy suburban couple (Bateman and Garner). Then the problems really start...
2007 was Hollywood’s Year Of The Unplanned-Pregnancy Comedy. First we had Adrienne Shelley’s Waitress; next was Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up; then, in December, Juno was delivered in the US.
Instead of being regarded as the runty late arrival, Juno received more coverage than the other two films put together. Some even talked Oscars for the film’s 19-year-old Canadian star Ellen Page and scripter Diablo Cody. Others noted that, of the three films, Juno was the only one to give more than a passing mention to the “shmashmortion” issue.
Then there were those who raged at the film’s flippant approach to such A Serious Subject. Juno is sure to divide UK audiences too and, while the ayes have it, the film’s first ten minutes might see you siding with the nays.
The second film from Jason Reitman, following his glib debut Thank You For Smoking, and the first script from stripper-turned-blogger-turned-writer Cody, Juno initially suffers from a callow need to impress. Our too-cool-to-be-true heroine (listens to The Stooges, affects a pipe) is introduced in scenes loaded with zingers that threaten to derail the film before it’s even started. Thankfully, after Juno has purchased her home pregnancy test from a corrosive store clerk and informed her cheerleader best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) of the big news, the pace and tone shifts.
Following Juno’s visit to a dispiriting abortion clinic comes a surprisingly warm scene in the family home where Juno breaks the news to her dad (J. K. Simmons) and stepmom (Allison Janney). Here is a young girl who’s been raised by a blue-collar father who uses humour as a mark of character: Juno’s wit is a mask for her insecurities and a valuable defence against a cruel world.
Juno’s softer side is first glimpsed in her relationship with the baby’s father, Paulie (another disarmingly awkward turn from Superbad’s Michael Cera). But amidst Juno’s teen-comedy conventions, Cody, Reitman and cast set about undermining them. When we first meet the adoptive parents in their suburban McMansion, the wife, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), is presented as an uptight control-freak, leaving our sympathies resting with Jason Bateman’s Mark, a former grunge musician who now writes commercial jingles. But as Juno finds herself drawn to Mark and his collection of manga comics, the mood turns eerie: “I’m dealing with things way beyond my maturity level,” she tells her dad, in a moment that reveals just how young Juno truly is.
It’s scenes like this that give the film depth, as Juno gradually discovers who’s on her side in life’s battle. It’s like having the delicious cynicism of Ghost World and Heathers, but without any traces of the concomitant cruelty. Thanks to a perfectly judged three-act structure that follows the emotional highs and lows of Juno’s winter-to-summer pregnancy, the film saves its aces for last. Without giving too much away, after all that flip hipster yacking, the scenes that finally bring the tears are almost wholly without dialogue. As with all great wits, when it comes down to it, Juno knows exactly when to shut up.
A sharp-edged, sweet-centred, warm-hearted coming-of-age movie thats always just that little bit smarter than you think it is.