Juno

Juno

****

Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

As soon as Juno began, my heart sank. The oh so self-aware slick titles hollered desperately “I’m, like, totally such an indie film, see!” Great, another mainstreamer forcing its feet into Napoleon Dynamite’s moon boots.

The titles finished. Things improved instantly – and then just kept getting better.

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The proverbial buzz surrounding Juno is, like, totally justified. This is a cracking little film with its simple, smart story leaping from a spicy screenplay and tied together by great performances. Hence the triple-decker Oscar nominations for best motion picture, best original screenplay and best actress in a leading role. Could this be the small film that makes big in the face of Clooney and Day-Lewis?

A spunky Ellen Page plays the eponymous lead. Wasted in X3, Page showed considerable presence in David Slade’s disturbing Hard Candy and here dominates the screen, ably demonstrating that she can lead a film - so ably, in fact, that one cannot help but gleefully expect scorching roles from her in the future.

Juno MacGuff is a charismatic grunge teenager (no Mean Girls here) with confident chutzpah and sharp lines of cynical humour, all underscored with just the right amount of naivety for her age. She’s grown out of high school conformity, adult responsibility is still a way off. However, when she discovers she’s pregnant, following a liaison with the geeky but charming Paulie (Michael Cera), decisions are required.

The experience of just visiting the abortion clinic, as other college mates have, puts her off the place. So Juno decides to have the baby and to give it up for adoption. She’s introduced to upwardly mobile, moneyed and childless couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Likeble and desperate for a baby - well, Vanessa, anyway - they seem a good match and a relationship of sorts develops between the three of them. Easy.

Of course not.

The tribulations that Juno’s decisions bring her and others unfold sincerely with an easy charm and appeal that are infectious and warm, while remaining intelligent and uncompromised by overly pat solutions or settlements. Diablo Cody’s sassy and pertinent script must take credit for this and it’s a wonderful debut for the writer that leaves much more mainstream dross truly shame-faced. It’s not without its emotional manipulation, but it is without lazy cliché and everyone has a rounded role to play.

Although Page’s performance radiates throughout, she’s surrounded by high calibre deliveries from everyone else. Perhaps it’s not surprising given the quality TV pedigrees that director Jason Reitman’s cast bring with them. Allison West Wing Janney and JK Law & Order Simmons play Juno’s refreshingly pragmatic parents, while Jason Bateman is joined by his Arrested Development alumnus Michael Cera, still hot from Superbad. Even Jennifer Alias Garner holds her own to allay memories of Elektra. Reitman’s sensible and unshowy direction lets the tones of the script and characters do all the work as he follows up his wry satire Thank You For Smoking with another estimable offering.

There’s an audience demographic that might latch onto pro-life and anti-teenage sex themes. Okay, they’re there if you really want to read it that way, yet it would take a prejudicial effort to emphasise them so. Far from hectoring the issues, Juno is a thoughtful look at personal responsibility and preparedness in life and the fragility of relationships, no matter what your age.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2008
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Juno packshot
A teenager finds her own way of dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.
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Read more Juno reviews:

Chris ****1/2
Val Kermode ****
Stephen Carty ****

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Diablo Cody

Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby, Eileen Pedde, Rainn Wilson, Daniel Clark, Darla Vandenbossche

Year: 2007

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US, Canada, Hungary


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Little Miss Sunshine