The 2007 film Juno, from director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking), burns itself in your mind. It is witty, humorous, unique and above all, excellently scripted and cast.
Even though this review is somewhat dated, I can remember seeing this in the theater and noticing everyone focusing like it was an SAT session. No yawns, not even the agitating crinkle of plastic candy bags. It was as if it stopped all time.
Juno is a film that remains difficult to describe. It is not cut and dry or a closed discussion. It is a comical film that approaches a sensitive subject, teen pregnancy. This seems to be Reitman’s content style: taking subjects that are not funny, and making them hilarious. Since he was successful in turning Big Tobacco into a Big Joke in Thank You For Smoking, he decided to target teen pregnancy.
The film is not a joke however. We are so used to seeing the negative aspects of teen pregnancy, as depicted in these “reality” shows such as Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. Those culture-killers are successful at showing all the negative aspects of pregnancy. Juno, on the other hand, does not glamorize pregnancy, but it shows how one can cope with it.
The main character, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), is not your typical high-school junior. She is smart, funny, and has a very unique way of explaining things. Her dialogue has such a smooth and effortless nature that it feels like she is talking to you personally. She transforms into this character so well that you would assume this is how she is in real life.
At 16-years-old, Juno feels she is ready for her first sexual experience. She chooses her best friend Paulie (Michael Cera), who unwillingly goes along for the ride. After a trip to the convenience store, and several pregnancy tests later, Juno realizes she is pregnant. Naturally. Originally planning to have an abortion, Juno’s high-powered perception of the abortion clinic gave her cold feet. With help from her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirby), she decides to put the child up for adoption, ironically finding a couple in search for a child in the classified section of the newspaper (next to the pet adoption ads).
One of the more important aspects of this film, and one that makes it so different are the reactions of Juno’s parents upon hearing this news. I always assumed the phrase, “I’m pregnant” would only be found in a parents nightmare, but they actually take it well. In fact, her parents, Mac and Bren, (played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janne), form a stronger bond with her because of this. They represent a breed uncommonly see in high school comedy films; understanding, warmth and a sense of humor. Instead of the old routine of frantically driving to the guys house and kicking the crap out of him, they seem to laugh about him.
“Paulie Bleeker…didn’t think he had it in him.”
After he unveiling of her big secret, Juno decides to put the child up for adoption. In a overly humorous scene, Mac accompanies her to the residence of would-be-adoptive parents, Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). They represent an upscale yuppie couple who seem to get more enjoyment showing off their overpriced furniture than actually using it. Their home, a mirror image of Home Living Magazine, looks as if no one lives there. The relationship between these two characters is one riddled with irony. Vanessa, an emotionally and passionately starved wife, wants a child more than anything.
Her husband, Mark, is a child. He is one of those guys who, due to mid-life-crisis, acts younger than they are (e.g. wearing T-shirts with long-sleeve shirts and fantasizing about “gettin’ the old band back together”). His ambition to be a cool rock star has been diluted to that of a commercial jingle composer with “his own room for the memories of his cool things.”
As the film progresses, we shadow Juno through the nine months of her pregnancy. It is during this time that Juno finds the key to the lock of who she is. As she dives into these true feelings that lurk beneath her hardened and zinger personality, we start to understand her true character and how she views the world. An excellent example of this are the feels that form between Mark and her. Are they inappropriate or does she just not understand the barriers of a married man?
This film has such impeccable timing, transitions and development. Since this is designed to be only about characters, this is what we get. Nothing more, nothing less.