When word got out that Juno was the most talked about film at Sundance, it was easy to be skeptical about it. A blogger/stripper/screenwriter Diablo Cody, a movie about a pregnant teen, the “snappy” dialogue spewed forth by all of the characters in the film, and finally, directed by Jason Reitman, Ivan’s son. It had the markings of being just the film to appeal to today’s jaded youth. After all, what girl could crack jokes when faced with an unwanted pregnancy?
But guess what? Juno is one of the best films of the year. Not only is the movie good, but it sends you out of the theater with an odd feeling of contentment, perhaps even enthusiasm for life and all of its strange offerings. Everything it does that’s annoying in the first half it undoes in the second half.
Cody’s screenplay is chock full of dialogue that thinks itself so funny it makes your brain bleed. But at some point, the wiseacre Juno (played to tough/vulnerable slacker perfection by Ellen Page) is transformed from a novelty to a revolutionary. Okay, so it might not seem like the biggest revolution in film history, but it is one that I, as a female, am grateful for.
In the most subtle and entertaining of ways, Cody and Reitman have mowed down the stereotypes when it comes to pregnant women on screen: it is almost always told from the man’s point of view and is about the man’s experience of becoming a father. In this film, becoming a mother IS a matter of choice, just not in the way you expect it.
The film opens on plucky Juno on her way to get yet another pregnancy test. After one pity encounter with her male friend, Bleeker (Michael Cera), she is, indeed, knocked up. Naturally, her first inclination is to get an abortion, but at some point she decides she can’t go through with it. She’ll have the baby and put it up for adoption.
Juno is lucky that she has two great parents. A father played by J.K. Simmons, and a stepmother played by scene-stealing Alison Janney. She also finds two “normal” parents to adopt her baby, played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. These peripheral characters, along with Cera, bring tenderness to the story because, after all, Juno is smart and to a degree, wise, but the compassion surrounding her is what enables her to ultimately do the right thing.
Garner is particularly good as a woman who feels broken inside because she’s never been able to have children of her own. How easy it is for a teenager to do it once and be pregnant, while older women often have to try and try for years before either giving up or finding another way. The answer to the problem seems like a no-brainer, but again, just when you think you’ve figured it out, Cody and Reitman throw another curve ball at you.
What is so admirable about the unexpectedly moving Juno is that it takes a worn-out genre and breathes new life into it. It knows it’s a comedy first, even perhaps an unconventional romantic comedy, and because of that, Juno is one of the easier sits I’ve had all year.
Immediately, audiences may want to judge Juno for getting knocked up in such an irresponsible fashion. Anyone who has been a teenager knows all too well how shizz can happen, why it happens, and why more movies and stories aren’t honest about it. Cody and Reitman dove right in, and though theirs was one of the easier answers to the equation, it was nonetheless a courageous move.