Watching Juno is like spending ninety minutes with the wiseass office “intellectual”; the kind of person who quotes movies like The Matrix with a straight face and thinks Dennis Miller ruled on Monday Night Football. The Indie comedy used to have something to say, but now it’s just a front for nonsensical pop culture references (today’s finest form of comedy, it seems) wrapped around a flimsy story. I acknowledge that there’s an audience for this, but I’m not it.
As the film opens, young and snarky Juno MacGuff (Page) finds out she’s pregnant. The father is the dorky Paulie Bleeker (Cera), one of Juno’s best friends. Juno struggles with her decision regarding what to do, but after being creeped out by the local abortion clinic decides to have the child and give it up for adoption. She finds a pair of promising in parents in the form of Mark (Bateman) and Vanessa (Garner) Loring – a well-off couple who truly want a child. Juno forms a bond with the couple, particularly Mark, but things aren’t as easy as they seem.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody (I guess I’ll give alias points for that one) has absolutely raided the Urban Dictionary in her effort to craft The Coolest Screenplay Ever. Planted firmly in some sort of parallel universe, we’re expected to laugh at expressions like “honest to blog” and a sixteen-year-old girl referencing Soupy Sales. For some it’s comedic gold, for me it’s a raving distraction. Jason Reitman, who struck Freshman gold with 2005’s Thank You For Smoking, directs as if he’s along for the ride. The film is completely bland to watch (save for the clever opening credits), likely because Reitman knew he was taking a backseat to Cody’s screenplay and a bizarre soundtrack of three-chord acoustic jams.
As lame as the movie is, there are solid performances by an ensemble cast that is far better than the film deserves. Ellen Page, who has gradually been making a name for herself since 2005’s Hard Candy, is terrific in the lead role. Granted, she annoyed me to no end, but it couldn’t have turned out any other way given the screenplay. Garner and Bateman are excellent as the prospective parents, and both are given a chance to flex a little emotional muscle. Michael Cera, who just made a star-making turn in Superbad, is given nothing to do. What gives? The kid is a dry humor prodigy and thanks to the script all he can do is shrug his shoulders in his limited screen time.
Juno won me over a bit in its third act, which, shockingly, is when it tones down the snark and actually tries to say something. It may have its heart in the right place, but getting there is a major chore. This type of material (serious issues wrapped in offbeat humor) works infinitely better when given a low profile (a la Little Miss Sunshine). But, Cody’s script is the Indie flavor of the year and the Academy never comes across one of those that they don’t like. If this is where Indie comedy is headed, I guess I should find some other shenanigans to get into. Right, homeskillet?
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Length: 92 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
Theatrical Release: September 1, 2007 (Telluride Film Festival) / September 8, 2007 (Toronto Film Festival) / December 5, 2007 (Limited)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons