No one likes a wiseass, but give Juno MacGuff a chance.
The sass-talking star of Jason Reitman's follow-up to Thank You For Smoking
is a sixteen year-old smarty-pants who looks like a schoolgirl but talks like a scriptwriter, and she saves her film from becoming just another Little Miss Sunshine schmaltz-fest. Boasting a sharp-tongued turn from Ellen Page, a soundtrack destined for a million student iPods and a script from scribe du jour Diablo Cody, Juno has the best indie credentials this side of a Wes Anderson movie.
Juno (Page) is your typical teen outcast: she's into all the cool bands and movies, wears hip, alternative clothes and speaks in a dizzyingly modern patois, peppered with pop-culture references ("Thundercats are go!") and baffling lingo. She's also pregnant. The guilty party is her best friend Paulie Bleeker (Superbad
's Michael Cera), the couple having slept together on a whim, apparently as means of staving off boredom. When Juno decides she's going to give her baby up for adoption, she chooses professional couple Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) as the recipients for the fruits of her belly.
The movie kicks off with an exhausting opening scene in which Juno converses with Rainn Wilson's store clerk in a frankly ridiculous manner (has anyone ever really referred to someone as "homeskillet" before? Thought not), displaying exactly the kind of sub-Dawson's Creek style dialogue that's likely to alienate anyone without tip-top verbal dexterity. Thankfully, the script cools a little from then on, with the acid-tipped one-liners and the witty comebacks used sparingly and not scattered throughout everyday conversation. Reitman is a savvy enough director to know that Kevin Smith-esque verbal assaults can sink a movie quicker than an iceberg, and Cody's screenplay is subsequently downplayed to winning effect.
If Cody is a shoe-in for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, then Ellen Page is probably slightly longer odds, but that's not to say she's not deserving of the utmost praise. She portrays the arrogance of youth in that way only the young (and annoyingly talented) can, her Juno inflated by her own false sense of superiority and carried along on a wave of self-appointed cool. Along with Thora Birch in Ghost World, it's one of the most assured young female performances of the last decade - this chick is going places. The same can be said about Michael Cera, who delivers another trademark bashful turn that's effective, if not exactly a struggle. He and Page make a cute couple anyways.
Kudos also to Garner and Bateman, who both nail difficult roles - the former is a revelation playing the potentially two-dimensional wannabe mother who can't conceive, while the latter is typically fantastic as the husband whose dreams of a rock and roll future get more distant with every minute of Juno's pregnancy. It's testament to Reitman's skill as a director that he's brought together such a great cast on only his second picture: he'll go onto even greater things after this.
Frequently verbose and occasionally meandering, Juno is nonetheless a huge success for all concerned: it marks the start of some seriously promising careers both in front of and behind the camera. There's always a sneaking suspicion that the movie's indie sensibilities are being embellished somewhat - the twee soundtrack, the lo-fi animated intro, the overplayed pop-culture references etc. - but there's no denying Jason Reitman has crafted something special: a feelgood movie that'll make you laugh, not puke. Add an ending that couldn't be more note-perfect if you struck it with a tuning fork, and you're looking at a bouncing baby that seems destined to grow into a classic.