Juno Movie Review

Ellen Page plays a quirky teenager in Jason Reitman's Juno but she does so in a way I've rarely witnessed before. She's not rebelling from medication like Natalie Portman in Garden State, nor is she just a normal, shy girl who is externally quirky like Tina Majorino in Napoleon Dynamite. Her peculiarities aren't her definition like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, and she's not flippantly cute and brazenly poetic like Zooey Deschanel in Paul Gordon Green's All the Real Girls. Page's Juno MacGuff certainly has hints of all these characters, but what we witness of her comes from somewhere far off-screen. Remarkably, the world we're watching doesn't revolve around her.

When this Argento-loving firecracker gets knocked up by Paulie Bleeker (the invaluable Michael Cera), her rhythms don't change much; a big cookie consumed simultaneously with a lamb kebob seems like something she'd eat even if her hormones weren't all akimbo. After chatting up an ex-pill popper/current pro-lifer, her attempts to procure an abortion are thwarted by the thought of her baby's tapping fingernails and the sterilized miasma of the clinic's waiting room. Hastily, she opts for an old-fashioned, at-birth adoption with no frills. Her parents, played lovingly by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, are concerned but surprisingly level-headed, even if they wished she had just gotten a DUI instead of getting knocked up.

The mother-to-be finds the ideal parents-to-be in the local Pennysaver paper, charmed by the legitimacy of their picture. (They didn't use a fake background.) The adoptive mother, Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), says she feels like she was born to be a mother but her husband Mark (Jason Bateman) shows hesitancy from the first "sure." They act happy but he digs Sonic Youth, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and his cherry Les Paul while she tries to explain the importance of a Pilates machine to Juno's father.

Not surprisingly, Reitman showed the same cavalier adeptness to comedy as his father in last year's grossly overrated Thank You for Smoking though he showed little else as a filmmaker. Second time's a charm: maybe it's Diablo Cody's witty and honest script, or maybe it's just momentum, but Reitman feels more mature and assured of his assets in Juno than even Smoking's most ardent fans could have anticipated. Considering his genes, it comes as a particular shock how he works with actors and how he gets them to hit notes that seem to be otherwise unreachable by the cast.

Reitman's new abilities are never more apparent than when Juno finds out that the Lorings might be divorcing and that Paulie has chosen to go to prom with a girl who smells like soup. One might think a girl who refers to penises as "pork swords" and listens to Patti Smith and Iggy Pop exclusively would be able to handle these blows, but it's no slice of meringue. Cera has a natural earnestness when he tells Juno that she's being unfair and immature, but when Page says "I'm a planet," you can feel the weight of the room shift.

From the outset, Page all but merges with Juno, and her punchy one-liners and peculiar contortions really come from her gut rather than a typed page. By the time our heroine's water breaks, Reitman has transformed her early idiosyncrasies into an eccentric but sincere tenderness that radiates in the cast. Janney, donning wonderfully cheesy sweaters throughout, delivers the most heartfelt of Cody's lines when answering how Garner looks with her baby: "Like a new mom: scared shitless."

The fact that Juno goes for adoption rather than the other "a" has caused a few critics to cast the film as a conservatives-go-hip ploy. That doesn't fly for me: Almost every character exudes notably blue-state warmth, and though the American family is seen as a dilapidated structure, it's whole-heartedly embraced for its flaws without a hint of chastisement. But sometimes these films don't have to be about the "right" and "wrong" attitudes towards dubious issues nor even about what agenda the helmer may or may not be after. Sometimes they are simply about finding the right cheese for your macaroni.

It's a girl.

Comments

Juno Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 2007

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