Juno is one of those rare films where the movie is so good in every respect from the witty dialogue, to the entire ensemble cast, to the development of each character that you wish every movie could affect you in the same way.
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is sixteen years old and has recently found out she’s pregnant. To be sure, she takes three separate pregnancy tests, but the result is still the same. Her sometimes-boyfriend Paulie (Michael Cera) is floored by the news, which is understandable, considering that they only had sex once. Juno quickly shoots down the idea of an abortion after sitting in the clinic, and makes the decision to give birth to the child and then try to find adoptive parents. After revealing her news to her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother Bren (Allison Janney), she finds the perfect couple – childless yuppies Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Or, at least, so it seems. While Vanessa is certainly gung-ho about her destiny to be a mother, Mark seems fixated on reliving his days as a wannabe rock star.
What really makes this movie tick is the originality and believability behind the characters in a movie that is classified as a teen-coming-of-age-comedy. Too often in teen comedies, we are thrown the parent stock character. The parent is frequently uptight or overly righteous, and often dismissive of any of the teenager’s decisions, no matter how logical the teenager’s solution may be. After years of watching these kinds of films, I had already envisioned Mac immediately thundering out of the room in search of a shotgun while demanding to know who the father was. In contrast, when Juno finally confronts her parents about her pregnancy, she’s met with initial shock (understandably), but immediately after, she’s met with support. “Did you see that coming?” Mac says after Juno has left the room. “Yeah,” Bren responds, “but I was hoping she was expelled, or into hard drugs.” Humorous parents in a teen movie? Quite novel, indeed.
The same goes for Juno’s character. On the exterior, Juno is a teenage prototype, decked out in pop culture (she dials the abortion clinic on a hamburger telephone) and in possession of a vast arsenal of sarcastic one-liners. She is also quick to defend her own rash decisions, such as the one to have unprotected sex. But she’s also mature beyond her age in some respects. She does realize the gravity of giving birth and plans far ahead in making sure the child will be well-cared for after she parts ways with it. Yet in some ways, she’s incredibly naive, believing that she understands the world better than the adults in her life. The crux of the movie develops the idea that she, indeed, does not.
The movie is greatly helped by its superior acting. Michael Cera is either one of the most brilliant actors of his generation, or he is that goofy in real life. He plays the same character that he did in Superbad and Arrested Development, but has the sweet, shy, and well-meaning adolescent down to a science. At one point, Juno declares that Paulie is the coolest person she knows, and doesn’t even have try. “I try really hard, actually,” Paulie says with the signature Michael Cera delivery. Jennifer Garner’s acting is also noteworthy, as her character is most of the deepest and most intriguing she has played in quite some time. The same goes for Jason Bateman.
But the show is stolen by Ellen Page. She handles a very difficult task of simultaneously behaving like a 40 and then a 10-year old within the span of seconds, and does it in a truly believable way. She also makes it so there is no way a viewer will not like Juno and her disarmingly charming ways. “Your parents are probably wondering where you are,” Vanessa says after Juno has somewhat overstayed her welcome. “Nah,” Juno replies. “I mean, I’m already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans could I get into?”
As a closing note, this movie frequently reminded me of the other teen-coming-of-age comedy from this year, Superbad. The major difference of course being that Juno is a girl, not a boy. It was not only fun to see this kind of movie done from a female prospective, but also proves that in the male-dominated world of comedy, that it is possible to have the ability to bear children and be (very, very) funny at the same time.
Rating: **** (out of five)