It is a rare thing these days to write about a film that shines in every aspect. Lately, it seems like most films leave me with a keen awareness of something missing or poorly present. Nothing could be further from the truth in regards to the upcoming film, Juno. Believe all the hype for this one. The film is…or should be…a delight for all.
Juno tells the story of Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), a sixteen-year-old, cool high-schooler who “accidentally” gets pregnant with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). The film follows her through her pregnancy, her flirtation with abortion, and her ultimate decision to put the baby up for adoption, specifically to a young couple, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Along the way, Juno must learn to cope with being a “planet” in a hallway full of young, attractive classmates, a task not especially difficult given her ever-eccentric personality. Juno also comes to terms with her true feelings for Paulie and how their pregnancy affects them. Paralleling Juno’s story is the relationship between Mark and Vanessa, a cuckoled husband to a domineering, desiring wife. Is Mark ready for this baby, and are they the right couple for Juno?
Most reviews of the film cite Diablo Cody’s outstanding script (a freshman outing no less), which should serve as a reminder of the importance of good writing during this strike season. Juno’s (both the character and the film’s) one-liners are hilarious and demand repeat viewing. Juno is hip and world-wise but not in a pompous way like the characters of Dawson’s Creek. She knows what she wants and is determined to see it through; however, she is not without her own needs and confusions as well, as her constant trips to hang out with Mark show.
While Ellen Page is the star here and should be recognized profusely as such, every other actor gives perfect performances. Michael Cera is fantastic as a confused nerdy “won’t-be-father,” and we are often left begging for more of his understated, yet effective performance. Bateman and Garner ooze contempt for one another which betrays their perfect suburban, cookie-cutter home. Juno’s father, Mac MacGuff (J. K. Simmons) and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney), provide some hilarious moments and wonderfully mix the right amount of disappointment with unconditional love and respect for their daughter.
An insightful script and brilliant performances give Juno a sense of reality and mature pathos that enhances this life-affirming story. As we have seen, these types of stories are not uncommon in Hollywood today (Children of Men, Waitress, Bella); however, the filmmakers’ deft handling of Juno’s decision to have her baby and put it up for adoption make this something infinitely more than an anti-abortion film. The film borders on the saccharine, but in a good way, and the actors’ quirkiness keeps it grounded in reality. It’s emphasis on Mark and Vanessa’s very real struggle to adopt is an important addition to a film that could have simply kept all its focus on Juno and her pregnancy. Garner’s desire for a child is heartbreakingly palpable as is her final union with it.
Despite all the praise for the various aspects of the film, Juno is still greater than the sum of its great parts. Do not miss this during your holiday viewing.
Juno (92 mins.) will be released in theaters everywhere on December 21 and is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.