Film review by: Witney Seibold
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page, from “Hard Candy,” and doing a complete 180 from horrible monster into lovable heroine) is a sophomore in high school, but talks like a well-read college grad. She is not fazed by anything she doesn’t want to be, and has that casual humorous superiority over matters that many teenagers often affect. Her dad (J.K. Simmons) and her stepmom (Allison Janney) talk in a similar fashion, her best friend (Olivia Thirlby) tends to wittily bounce off of her, and the fellow she claims not to have a crush on, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), easily incorporates her cherry aloof manner into his heart. When Juno accidentally becomes pregnant, there is an initial moment of mild freakout, but most everyone, moved by Juno’s relaxed forwardness, takes the deal in stride, and when she finds a nice yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner, pleased as punch, and Jason Bateman, pleased as eggnog) to adopt the unborn child, all goes exactly as planned. Of course there will eventually be something in this story to challenge Juno for the first time, but she is an indomitable little imp. Eventually, she’ll find humility in her own heart. Sigh.
For a film to deal with broken homes, heartbreak, teen pregnancy, barren couplehood, and unrealized emotional depth, “Juno” couldn’t be more lightweight, frothy, and good-spirited. The film’s director, Jason Reitman, knows how to walk the line between featherweight humor, and the darkness and seriousness of the issue at hand; he did a similar balancing act with his last film “Thank You For Smoking.” The film’s screenwriter, Diablo Cody, infuses the script with an infectious cleverness and a droll wiseacre quality that comes dangerously, dangerously close to sounding hipper-than-thou, but is reined in by Reitman’s direction, and largely by Page’s performance. Page could have made Juno a snarky little hellion, but chose to make her, well, smart. She was smart, but still had some growing to do, and Page shows us a canny blend of witty knowitall and insecure teen.
“Juno” has been criticized for putting unrealistically adult dialogue in the mouths of young people. This may be true, but Page sells it so well, it doesn’t matter that it is, in actuality, not believable. Would an actual teen say to a prospective yuppie couple “It probably looks like a Sea Monkey about now. Let’s wait for it to get a little cuter.” Well, probably not. But that’s a good line, and Page delivers it with aplomb.
The film’s music is its one major misstep. There are way, way too many “cute” and “hip” songs on the soundtrack of whiny emo rockers crooning childishly about how they want to be in love with their best friends, and how butterflies are so pretty. The final shot of two teenagers singing to each other on acoustic guitars almost betrays how good the film has been so far. Juno, along with her movie, is precocious, but her movie’s soundtrack skirts the boundaries of what an audience can take.
“Juno” is terrific, though. It’s slowly becoming a powerful sleeper hit, and deserves it.