Movie Review: Juno

Not too long ago I finally made time out of my busy schedule to see Juno which, as I write this, is still raking in the dough in theaters many weeks after its initial release. I guess I wanted to see what all the critics had been ranting and raving about, and find out whether the movie lived up to all the hype.

I’m happy to report that I won’t be getting into any fistfights with critics about Juno — at least, not with too many of them. I know this movie has some detractors, especially now that it’s up for a number of Oscars, but to these folks I have to ask the question “why?”. Quite simply, Juno is not only one of the best movies of 2007, but more than that it was a movie that was enjoyable to watch from start to finish. It’s a movie where you just can’t help but sit back and smile at all the witty “Junoisms” and the quirky characters. It’s hard not to like this movie.

It’s about a high school student named Juno MacGuff who becomes pregnant, and she quickly has to figure out what to do with the baby. Juno clearly is in no shape to be a parent at her age, but she decides there is no way she is having an abortion. There’s a funny scene where Juno is sitting in the clinic waiting to get an abortion, and she is so creeped out that she runs out.

Juno stumbles into a seemingly perfect plan. She reads an ad in the paper from a seemingly perfect couple seeking to adopt a baby and give it a good home. Juno decides to allow this couple to adopt her newborn child once it is born. A nice, quick, and easy solution — if only it were that simple.

Of course it is not that simple, and there are several twists and turns all the way. Part of the suspense comes from the fact that we do not know whether Juno will go through with handing over her baby for adoption or not. And it turns out that things aren’t so perfect with the couple seeking to adopt the baby. It does turn into a question of whether Juno will “keep” the baby or not — though not in the way you might initially imagine.

It would be unfair to call this simply a teen pregnancy movie. To say that is to sell this movie short. They get into a lot of different themes, such as responsibility. And relationships. There is a scene where Juno is with her dad and searching for some assurance that love is going to last forever in a relationship. There is a lot going on here, and I think this is a movie that is less about making sense of the whole issue of teen pregnancy, and more about Juno trying to make sense of the situation and the meaning of life, love and relationships.

Canadian actress Ellen Page is perfectly cast as Juno, the snarky, disarmingly-direct main character. She is odd, to be sure, and also quotable. “I don’t know what kind of girl I am,” she says to her dad. Or when she tells the prospective adoptive couple that they “should have gone to China. I hear they give away babies like free Ipods.” How about “cheesebanana, shut your friggin’ gob!”

But more than that, the whole cast is quirky. Every one of these characters has a personality, whether it be the confused best friend/boyfriend (Michael Cera), or the wannabe adoptive mom (Jennifer Garner) or her rocker husband who simply doesn’t want to grow up (Jason Bateman).

Credit has to go to Diablo Cody for bringing the characters to life with her screenplay. As well, director Jason Reitman has to be given credit for bringing it to life on the big screen. One thing I noticed about Juno is that it is very different in style from Thank You for Smoking, which was also directed by Reitman. That movie was decidedly politically incorrect and reflected the voice of Christopher Buckley, who wrote the original novel; Reitman went on from there to write the screenplay adaptation. Here, though, the voice that comes through in the movie is clearly that of Diablo Cody, and credit goes to Reitman for allowing that to come through.

For Cody, I think she has a bright future ahead after her debut here: a simple story about a girl who comes up with the perfect scheme to deal with an unexpected pregnancy, and who realizes that life isn’t so perfect. It is the quirks and the winning characters that keep this movie going to the end. There are no real villains in this movie — and no easy solutions as Juno finds out.

Lots of people are comparing this movie to Knocked Up, which was the other movie of 2007 that dealt with the issue of a woman who became pregnant unexpectedly who, of course, decided to keep the baby. Frankly it is not a fair fight, as Juno basically blows Knocked Up away. Partly it is because this movie has a unique twist: Juno wants to keep the baby without keeping the baby. It’s also got more subtle humor and more emphasis on dialogue. Knocked Up , on the other hand, is really a different style of movie. It’s more conventional in its approach to the unexpected-pregnancy issue and is basically a Judd Apatow production built entirely for laughs.

Yet I see an Apatow influence on Juno in a lot of ways — and not just because Michael Cera was also in Superbad. The teenagers in Juno are straight out of Freaks and Geeks. They are awkward and don’t exactly know what the heck to do, just like in real life — and just like on that Apatow show. I don’t know if Apatow deserves any credit for this trend to more quirky teenagers in movies these days. Maybe what’s really happening is a return to what John Hughes used to do back in the 1980s with his movies. Those had plenty of weird teenagers in them (ie. Sixteen Candles).

In any event, we are seeing more directors and screenwriters present teenagers in a more realistic fashion. It’s refreshing to see teens portrayed as the dorks they really are. Heck, that was what my teenage years were like. It was nothing like High School Musical.

Juno herself wouldn’t go for High School Musical either, that’s not exactly her thing. 1977 was more her year for music — and she wasn’t even born yet.

Grade: A

The Upside: The quirks, the Junoisms and the realistic portrayals make this a fun movie to watch from start to finish.

The Downside: The movie ended, and then we had to go home.

On the Side: Allison Janney plays Juno’s mom, but I kind of thought that Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle fame would have been just as good in the role. I was kind of waiting for her to show up, instead.

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