In these days of ASBOs and happy slapping, Juno was for me a welcome reminder of what is lovely about teenagers. Juno MacGuff, Ellen Page's fearsomely intelligent small town girl, brings it all back - the joyful overuse of elaborate sarcasm, the never-again warmth of friendships forged through long hours of enforced learning, and the cautious but exhilarating testing out of an emerging self on a bigger, scarier adult world.
The film opens with Juno taking a panicky series of pregnancy tests, after her first sexual experience with the lanky, geeky, but rather beautiful Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera of Arrested Development fame). Testing positive, she decides to "procure a hasty abortion". When she visits the local clinic, Juno is picketed by her classmate Su-Chin, who chants "All babies want to get borned!" and describes the unborn baby's fingernails. Venturing inside, Juno is made to accept a blueberry flavoured condom by the receptionist (with the advice that it will make cum taste like muffins). Put off thoroughly, Juno then selects a childless couple from the Pennysaver, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), as adoptive parents.
The film charts the progression of the pregnancy, which sees Juno becoming closer to Mark, the commercial musician and potential adoptive dad who feels claustrophobic in his marriage to Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). As Vanessa's overwhelming maternal instincts and desire for suburban tranquillity increasingly terrify Mark, he flounders for a way out and embarks on a flirtation with Juno.
Given the name of Zeus's wife by her romantic air-conditioning technician dad, Mac MacGuff (JK Simmons), Juno lives up to this queen of the gods/divine boss of birth and marriage nomenclature with ease. The film is not merely a coming of age story about a small-town teenager; it is the story of a personality so strong and so unique that everyone who encounters Juno, from the school bully to the local store clerk to her cheerleader best friend, falls a little in love. Page's ability to carry this off and indeed, to make it look easy, marks her out as an actor we'll be watching a lot of in the future
She is perfectly matched by Michael Cera as Paulie Bleeker, the quiet, calm but nearly as intelligent foil to Juno's reckless flamboyance. Bleeker's maroon and yellow running suit, skinny white legs and ponderous lexicon ("you are royally ticking me off") are sweet but never overdone, and Cera produces some truly touching moments, such as when he reveals to Juno that he's treasured her knickers since the night of the conception.
Alison Janney, however, is miscast as Juno's dog-loving stepmother, Brenda MacGuff. Perhaps it's the baggage of umpteen seasons as the powerful and successful CJ in West Wing, or perhaps it's just the fact that Janney exudes elite breeding and expensive schooling, but she is difficult to accept as a small town nail technician. The scene where she explodes in anger at a judgemental radiographer, who tells Juno that teen mums create a poisonous environment for their children, is fun to watch but doesn't ring true.
The soundtrack in this film is used brilliantly - erratic, unsubtle and overladen with emotion: perfectly reflecting the average teenager's relationship with the music they co-opt to load up with angst. The immaturity of Mark, the would-be adoptive dad of Juno's baby, is nicely conveyed through his too enthusiastic buy-in to a world of competitive compilation.
All in all, Jason Reitman has done justice to Diablo Cody's script, creating a really moving but unsentimental film grounded in the lives of a very flawed and very ordinary family. My one question is, who was responsible for the awful poster? It suggests American Pie, while the reality is closer to Little Miss Sunshine. Ignore the ad and the pro-lifers claiming it as their own and make sure you see this one.
Cast : Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Olivia Thirlby, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner