Directed by Jason Reitman and written by 2008 Academy Award-winner Diablo Cody, Juno is what most teen movies are not: non-commercial, with an “agenda” between the pages of its screenplay. In other words, Juno isn't an excuse for promoting a soundtrack, and because of its low budget it can take risks without worrying about the bottom line – and risks it does take.
The plot follows a high-school girl, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), who has sex with a boy she likes, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). As a result of that encounter, Juno becomes pregnant. Despite the pressing issue of teen pregnancy, Juno is actually more about the girl who gets pregnant, her quirky personality, and what she decides to do about her bun in the oven.
The film also offers some of the freshest, quirkiest, and most unique dialogue exchanges I've heard in a teen movie since the 1995 comedy-drama Clueless (though Clueless seemed to create new slang, e.g., “as if,” “coastal,” etc.), in addition to being far funnier than the prose found in the hit Superbad, which came out at approximately the same time as Juno. I'd already heard many of the phrases, slangs, and references found in Diablo Cody's screenplay, but they're all mixed together and packaged in a way that makes you take notice, smile on a regular basis, and sometimes laugh out loud.
The pregnancy, its effect on Juno, her relationship with her would-be boyfriend, her parents, and her school, are all handled with surreal lightness that's not exactly rooted in reality. But since Juno's character is well established early in the film, you can see why she is able to deal with the tough situation she finds herself in with a kind of unusual bravado.
How the teen pregnancy issue is handled is a topic for discussion, but at least it did spark new discussions. A more open forum on the subject – which happened to be an ordinary occurrence in centuries past – might create different outcomes for sexually active teens.
Also worth noting is that Juno's supporting cast is remarkably effective; among them are Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as Mark and Vanessa Loring, the would-be adoptive parents of Juno's unborn child. Garner's performance, in particular, was a welcome surprise. Additionally, J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno's father, Mac MacGuff, and stepmother, Brenda, are just as good as representations of the stable and knowledgeable elements in Juno's life. Indeed, these characters are for all intents and purposes the realistic elements in Juno. If it were not for them and for a handful of dramatic moments, Juno could be seen merely as a comedy like Knocked Up instead of a drama with comedic elements.
And finally, the range of emotions Juno goes through during the course of the film says a lot about Ellen Page as an actress.
The contrast between Jennifer Garner's and Ellen Page's characters was particularly intriguing. Vanessa is basically the opposite of Juno: She wants a child, Juno does not. She is ready for a child in her life, Juno is not. She is fully capable of supporting the newborn; Juno is still a child herself, has not even graduated from high school, and is unemployed. She is willing to rearrange her life to welcome the newborn into her home, Juno is willing to give her child away to ensure it has a good home and everything else it could possibly need in the future.
Because of the quick decisions Vanessa and Juno make, Vanessa's husband finds himself at a crossroads in his life as well, though in a different manner. Mark's involves his life of “contributing” with Vanessa, the death of his ambitions, and being thrust head first into fatherhood. The careful viewer soon realizes that Juno is not about one but three people having to make crucial decisions.
Overall, Juno is an entertaining dramatic comedy about human beings dealing with serious issues such as teen romance and pregnancy. The way Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody handle the latter issue is sure to go on creating controversy, but to its credit Juno does not take the road well traveled.
© Reginald Williams
JUNO (2007). Dir.: Jason Reitman. Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J. K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby, Rainn Wilson. Scr.: Diablo Cody.