“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am.”
Truer words were never spoken by Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page). At 16 years of age, she’s straddling that line between the fancies of a little girl and the concerns of a mature woman. One minute, she’s talking on a phone shaped like a hamburger about complex emotions; the next, she’s surprising her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) by moving some discarded furniture to the front of his home. Yep, she’s all over the place emotionally and mentally, yet this intelligent teen knows she’s going to have to make some important decisions real soon. She’s pregnant and telling her parents is the least of her worries as she has to decide whether to keep her child, a decision she knows deep down she’s not ready to make.
The premise for Jason Reitman’s wonderful Juno sounds like that of a modern After-school special, but in the hands of first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, it becomes so much more than a moralistic sermon. Featuring characters as complex as the problems that face them, there’s a degree of honesty here in regards to the feelings of the admirable people the film presents, as well as a consideration for the long-term affects of their choices. That being said, the film’s a ton of fun and yet, moving. Cody uses the awkwardness inherent to her premise to mine not only scenes of spot-on behavioral humor but poignant moments that honestly capture the pain of these people without exploiting it.
After a visit to an abortion clinic, Juno decides to give her baby up for adoption. When she finds an ad placed by a couple eager to adopt, she sets out to meet Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), whose pristine suburban palace does nothing but hide a simmering discontent between the two. Vanessa’s a perfectionist, while Mark is suffering from an extended case of Peter Pan syndrome, writing commercial ditties to pay the bills but longing to become a rock musician. Juno, however, picks up on none of this and sees only a comfortable, stable home that she thinks will be a safe haven for her unborn child.
As Juno’s due date draws near, the film takes more than a few unexpected turns as the feelings that all of these characters have kept in check, slowly come to surface. Reitman and Cody deftly examine the ripple effect her pregnancy has on everyone involved, keeping Juno as the focus but also giving ample screen time to her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney) as well as Paulie and the Lorings. Their juggling of all of these stories is one of the unsung qualities of the film, which is complimented by the fine work of the cast. In an era in which more is more in American movies, Juno’s ending is a refreshing change as it quietly points towards a period of peace in the lives of its characters after all the chaos they’ve endured.
Ultimately, the film rests on Page’s shoulders and she’s more than up to the task of investing in Juno a seemingly contradictory sense of strength, confusion, adolescence and passion. The naiveté she displays is heartbreaking, as we know that the decisions she’s making will come back to haunt her. We suspect she knows this but is taking the most expedient path to help spare the ones she loves. Page pulls this all off with high energy and great emotion, giving us a young woman who, though forced to grow up, retains an optimistic point of view that will see her through in the end.
Opens today at Boardman’s Art Theatre
Runtime: 1hr 31min – Rated PG-13 – Comedy/Drama