Some comedies are like martinis in that they are an acquired taste. It may take one a few minutes to warm up to humor being presented. Juno is one such film. It has a distinct sensibility and voice to it, courtesy of its screenwriter Diablo Cody and its director Jason Reitman. It may not speak to everyone who sees it, but those who can hear its unique sense of humor will be well rewarded with one of the most intelligent and witty comedies of the year.
Sixteen-year-old Juno (Ellen Page) is a bit of an outsider in her painfully normal, clique-ish high school. However, once she finds herself pregnant, she finds herself even more alienated. That doesn’t bother her however. In fact, she seems rather nonplussed by her whole pregnancy predicament. Knowing that she is not ready to be a mother, she decides that she will give the baby up for adoption to a deserving couple, who she finds in the person of Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman). However, Juno finds that much like her pregnancy, there is much ahead of her that she has not planned on.
Much has been written about screenwriter Diablo Cody and this, her first produced screenplay. All the praise is deserved. Conversations sparkle in such a way that one wants to draw parallels to other stylized dialogue writers like Quentin Tarantino or Kevin Smith. Cody has crafted a script populated by quirky characters that still feel natural. Juno and her father share a rather strange child-parent relationship. They quip back and forth as if in a Tracy-Hepburn film. Both have been through the heartbreak of their mother/wife dying and their banter is their way of dealing with their hurt. On a second level, it shows that Juno’s dad recognizes his daughter’s intelligence and chooses to engage it. It is a refreshing break from the comedies where parents are absent from their teen’s lives or who don’t seem to know their children at all.
However, Juno and her father’s relationship is just a portion of Cody’s brilliantly observed script. There is an awkwardness in Juno’s relationship with Paulie (Superbad’s Michael Cera), her life-long friend by whom she is with child, that is fueled by their own unfamiliarity with their emerging sexuality and all the insecurities that can bring. Juno’s step-mother Bren struggles to fit in to Juno’s life and fill a role that she knows she’ll never be able to, but she perseveres good-naturedly anyway. Vanessa and Mark’s marriage seems ideal at first, but slowly onion-like layers are pulled back to reveal some long simmering problems.
But a great script is only as good as the cast performing it and the actors assembled here deliver performances worth of the screenplay. It’s hard to pick a standout from the ensemble, but Simmons report with Page sparkles, forming the backbone of the film. Page herself gives an incredible and complex performance, one of even greater depth than the powerful work she showed in 2005’s Hard Candy.
As director Jason Reitman’s second film, Juno is no sophomore slump. Juno is a perfect melding of Reitman’s offbeat comic sensibility, Diablo’s script and a great cast. It is a shame that comedies are often overlooked at Oscar-time as there are several nominations, and possibly a win or two, lurking in this film.