Movie Review: Juno

Consider director Jason Reitman — son of famed director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes) — with his second directorial effort Juno, he has now successfully made two incredibly smart and overwhelmingly well received films. Like Thank You for Smoking, Juno is one of those films that just feels right to an audience, leaving you with the all-to elusive warm and fuzzy feeling once it is over. It seems to be, at least to me, that Reitman has found a very distinct formula for successfully entertaining us with sharp-witted, off-the-cuff comedies. He takes a great script, combines it with a top-notch yet often non-mainstream cast and combines it with a unique visual style and a melodic soundtrack. And don’t forget a side of quirkiness.

The story, which comes from stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody — a name you have undoubtedly heard by now — follows Juno (Ellen Page, Hard Candy), a charming teenage girl who is forced to deal with some of life’s tougher choices a moment too soon when she finds herself pregnant. With the help of her teacher-stalking cheerleader best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby, United 93) and her oddball parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janey), Juno decides to keep the baby and find it a “perfect” set of parents. And right out of the Pennysaver ads, she finds Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), a seemingly perfect yuppie couple who can provide Juno’s baby with a loving, somewhat normal home.

It is a story, seemingly simple in nature, that digs at much larger themes about life, love and learning to make peace with adulthood, but overwhelmingly it is about a girl who is just trying to find her place in the world. Diablo Cody’s script exudes intelligence without being pretentious in the least, combining sharp dialogue with simple, yet lovable characters. It is also a story that does not get too preachy about its subject matter. One would think that a story of teen pregnancy would be riddled with social commentary about abortion and teen abstinence, but both Cody and Reitman treat the subjects with a light-hearted approach. Don’t get me wrong, those themes are all there somewhere — a fact that gives the film a great emotional weight — but the storytellers never beat you over the head with their politics. Rather, they stick to allowing us into the beautifully articulated world of a very unique girl and a host of other peculiar characters.

These characters are brought to life by what could only be described as the most impressive ensemble cast of the year. Sure, you may only know a little about Ellen Page or Superbad‘s Michael Cera (who play’s Juno’s love interest Paulie Bleeker; the father of her child), but you should know enough to realize that these are two of the brightest young stars in film today. Ellen Page’s performance in particular, gives us a lead character who is tough and wise beyond her years, yet at times very vulnerable. Also notable is the performances of J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s father and step-mother. Janney shines in a few very memorable scenes, one of which has her verbally abusing a condescending ultrasound technician. Her quirkiness combined with J.K. Simmons’ familiar tough guy with a big heart persona is pitch-perfect for this film.

While the script and the casting is a clear winning combination for this film, the glue that holds it all together is the film’s steady-handed director Jason Reitman. As he did with Thank You for Smoking, Reitman puts a unique thumbprint on Juno’s world, both with a fun visual style (see the opening title sequence as a perfect example) and a soundtrack that is at times, a breath of fresh air. It is all part of an experience that is different from other movies that you will see, but in all the right ways. Pay attention when people talk about Jason Reitman, as he is going to be something special for a long time — but then again, it may all be genetic.

You can also pay attention come Oscar time, because if Juno isn’t one of the films (and Ellen Page isn’t one of the actresses) that is being hailed come March, it will only confirm that the Academy has lost touch with what is really special about independent film these days. While most studios and directors in Hollywood can take the standard formula of making decent flicks and continue to give us the same ole’ thing, Jason Reitman has now given us two home runs in a row, as Juno is the best film of the year by a mile — but then again, his formula is a little different than everyone else’s.

The Upside: Jason Reitman’s Oscar-worthy direction, Diablo Cody’s Oscar-worthy script, Ellen Page’s Oscar-worthy performance and every other unique surprise that this film has in store for its viewers.

The Downside: The film is only 92 minutes long. With the onslaught of three hour movies coming out that are absolute bores, I could have sat through this one even if it were twice as long.

On the Side: To articulate the great dialogue in this film, here is a little taste (of course, it holds even more weight when delivered with the unmatched cynical tone of Ellen Page): “He and my mom got divorced when I was like five, and she lives on a reservation in Arizona with a husband and three replacement kids. Oh, and she inexplicably mails me a cactus every Valentine’s Day. And I’m like, thanks a heap coyote ugly, this cactus-gram stinks even worse than your abandonment.”

Grade: A+

Juno Poster Release Date: December 5, 2007
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.
Running Time: 92 min.
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Olivia Thirlby, JK Simmons, Allison Janey, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Rain Willson
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Official Website: Click Here

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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