In many ways, Jason Reitman’s Juno is the flip side to this summer’s mega-hit comedy Knocked Up. Not just thanks to its similar subject matter—both take comedic approaches to unwanted pregnancy—but also because of its tone and style, a jaded and overtly feminine counterpoint to Knocked Up writer-director Judd Apatow’s mushy, warm masculinity. A lot of that must be thanks to screenwriter Diablo Cody, who infuses Juno with a genuine, fully realized woman’s perspective that’s always been missing from Apatow’s work.
Also, the main character here is the one who gets pregnant, not the one who does the impregnating. It’s high-school student Juno (Ellen Page), a sullen indie-rock chick who sleeps with her best friend/bandmate Bleeker (Michael Cera) because she’s “bored,” listens exclusively to punk rock made before she was born and peppers her speech with self-consciously artificial language that proves how much smarter she is than just about everyone she interacts with.
This sounds entirely insufferable, and although Cody’s script is sometimes painfully overwritten, it also accurately depicts that teenage phase of figuring out your personality by trying too hard to adopt the affectations of the people you admire. Trying equally hard is Bleeker, who’s meek and completely bowled over by Juno, and has barely a word to say when she glibly informs him that she’s pregnant. Practical and showily self-sufficient girl that she is, Juno makes an appointment at the abortion clinic, only to back out when confronted with its mundane ugliness; instead she decides to offer her child up for adoption, finding a couple through ads in the Penny Saver.
They’re the uptight yuppie contrasts to Juno’s grunginess, or at least they appear to be at first; while scarily composed Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) is exactly as dedicated to motherhood as she seems, husband Mark (Jason Bateman) is a rock ’n’ roll outsider trapped in a suburbanite’s body, and soon befriends Juno with talk of Sonic Youth and low-budget horror movies. The arc that follows is sweet without giving in to sentiment, and while it does gloss over many of the downsides of teenage pregnancy, it doesn’t deify traditional family life in the way that Apatow has a tendency to do. Teens are teens; they make mistakes and are irresponsible, but that’s no reason that they should be forced to grow up before they’re ready.
More than a story about motherhood, Juno is about opening up to love, as Juno slowly does in her awkward, halting relationship with Bleeker, a timid but upstanding counterpart to her brashness. Page and Cera make the pair’s dynamic endearing and believable as teen romance, not about lifelong commitment and family as much as it’s just about finding someone who understands and complements your own weirdness. The movie is, above all, a showcase for Page, who played a world-weary teen of a very different sort in Hard Candy, and gives another star-making performance here (this time, one that people might actually see).
Reitman, who made an assured debut with Thank You for Smoking, continues to show his aptitude for sharp comedy in the face of situations that most people would find appalling, and he brings Cody’s at-times overly mannered screenplay to life in a visually inventive way, downplaying the preciousness that could make it come off like a riot-grrrl version of a Wes Anderson movie. Instead it’s a sweet-and-sour look at the traumas of teen life, and the way that sometimes, improbably, they can be transformed into small miracles.
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman
Directed by Jason Reitman