2007’s indie-hit Juno tackles teenage pregnancy in an American blue-collar town without histrionics or melodrama. A coming-of-age story about a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy, the movie wraps itself in indie-spirit like a flag from the opening credits, which is where I resolved to hate it; all clever-clever rotoscoping and cookey typefaces and the first song in a soundtrack packed with irritating indie-bands and bad covers of classic songs. Then there’s that (clench teeth) theme song.
It takes a while to warm to any of the characters, or the dialogue or director Jason Reitman’s shooting style, but stick with it; Juno levels out to become a genuine one-off, a low-key comedy-drama, with many faults and many highlights.
I can’t fault any of the performances. Ellen Page shines as rebel-without-a-clue Juno MacDuff (although I didn’t believe for a moment she was sixteen). Jennifer Garner is brilliantly brittle and insecure as the prospective adoptive mother, Jason Bateman both charming and queasy as her husband. West Wing‘s Alison Janney makes a sympathetic stepmother and J.K. Simmons (Police Chief in the Closer) is wonderfully dead pan as Juno’s Dad. Olivia Thirlby is Juno’s live-wire best friend. Even Emily Perkins’ fleeting volunteer receptionist is a quirky, rounded cameo in itself. Michael Sera as goofy but good-hearted ‘boy-friend’ Bleeker does well to create an attractive geek who is neither caricature nor doormat.
The script isn’t concerned with big moral dialogues on teenage sexuality, pregnancy, pro-life vs abortion, or the aftermath of adoption. This is low-key domestic drama, through which Juno powers on with barely a flicker of distress until a key plot-twist three-quarters through. It may be I missed a lot going on below the surface, but until that point, it was all surface.
Despite some witty and unexpected funny lines, the smart, sassy script isn’t as smart or sassy as it or the producers think it is. Screen-writing Wunderkind Diablo Cody, since responsible for Jennifers Body, some of Burlesque, and Breather’s – A Zombie’s Lament, won an Oscar and a clutch of other awards for this apple-cart shaking script, but as later work has shown, it may have come from a shallow pool of talent. I haven’t seen her short-running TV series United States of Tara, comedy about a mother with dissociative identity disorder (boy, how did that get commissioned?), but there’s a suggestion Juno may be Cody’s high-point.
In its’ favour, the major turning points are subtly done, without the usual telegraphing of most Hollywood fodder. If you don’t mind the fingernails-down-a-blackboard soundtrack, it’s a different take on domestic drama from a young person’s perspective. Jane Austen it isn’t. RC
Production year: 2007
Certificate (UK): PG 13
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Cast: Ellen Page, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney