© 2008 Ray Wong
The indie darling of the season is definitely Juno, a teenage comedy that is a cross between Ghost World and Knocked Up. The film is getting a lot of attention and excellent traction at the box office.
Juno (Ellen Page) is a high school kid who just finds out she's pregnant by her one-time boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She can't go through with an abortion, so she decides to go through with it and give the baby up for adoption. With the help of her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and best friend Leah (Olivia Thrilby), she finds a perfect couple to adopt her baby: musician Mark (Jason Bateman) and his lovely wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner).
But nothing is as simple as it may seem. Juno is experiencing all the mood swings she's not used to. And she's developing an unhealthy crush on Mark, and Vanessa reveals herself as quite a control freak. Also, her relationship with Bleeker is hanging in the balance, as they both don't know what to do with themselves and the baby, if the adoption falls through.
Ellen Page (X-Men: The Last Stand) in an ingenue to watch. Her dead-on deliverance and cool portrayal of the smarty-mouthed teenager is winsome. Even though her character is a bit too quirky to feel completely realistic, Page makes her so endearing that you can't help but root for her. Likewise, Michael Cera (Superbad) has that awkward, geeky goodness pegged. He and Page don't really have a lot of chemistry together but they play off each other well.
Jennifer Garner (The Kingdom) plays the uptight straight woman very well. In such a comedy, she does a good job anchoring the emotional core by playing an affecting, if somewhat cold-fish character authentically. Jason Bateman (The Kingdom) is adequate as the indifferent husband. His relaxed performance is relevant to the character, but I don't really get a connection with him.
J.K. Simmons (Thank You For Smoking) is forever typecast as a curmudgeon redneck, but he does it so well, and this time with a really soft center. Allison Janney (Hairspray) has a minor role but delivers some of the film's best zingers. Unfortunately, Olivia Trirlby (Snow Angel) is nothing special in the obligatory BFF role.
First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody hits the jackpot with Juno. The story is actually very simple and uncomplicated, clichéd even. There is nothing spectacular about the plot -- it's very predictable. What excels in Cody's script that connects so well with the audiences are the character relationships and dialogue. Cody's characters are sharp-tongued and quick-witted. The dialogue is deliciously funny, especially when delivered by the charismatic Ellen Page. While a bit on the caricature side, the characters are well-drawn and they have some genuine relationships with one another. That's refreshing. However, like I said, the story is rather simplistic; it lacks certain je nais se quois, perhaps an edge that was present in last year's indie darling, Little Miss Sunshine. And the final act, while sweet and lighthearted, lacks that oomph to deliver the final punch.
Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) instills his brand of wit in this urban fairytale. Calling it a fairytale is not too radical. The plot is stylized, as are the characters. One could only dream of having such supportive parents like Juno's. And her boyfriend just sort of accepts his role as an unwanted father? A bit unbelievable. But under Reitman's lighthearted hands, the characters come across as extremely likable. Still, Reitman is hampered by the flat nature of the story, and he hasn't shown the edge he did in Thank You For Smoking.
That said, Juno is an entertaining little film with a social-conscious topic. It is so uncynical that it's refreshing. Despite its lack of an edge, the film is a sweet concoction of feel-good and warm-and-fuzzy. A certain crowd-pleaser that is going to do very well with a board audience, pregnant or not.
Stars: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, Rainn Wilson
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: PG-13 mature thematic material, sexual content, and language
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.3 out of 10