The younger Reitman goes two for two with this charming, sweetly sardonic tale of teen pregnancy.
Being a Hollywood offspring has its good and bad sides. On the plus side, doors open for you that might not open otherwise. On the negative side, people always accuse you of achieving your success via nepotism.
For Jason Reitman, I think we can officially declare the monkey off his back. Thank You For Smoking was an excellent, biting satire which received universal acclaim. Still, you could chalk one good film up to beginner’s luck, right?
But Juno ups the ante and proves Reitman was no one trick pony. Instead, he clearly possesses a more than credible share of the Reitman family talents. There’s no sophomore slump anywhere in site here.
And Juno has plenty of other great stories surrounding it. There’s screenwriter Diablo Cody, who went from stripper to blogger to screenwriter. There’s Ellen Page, who after two very different breakout performances in this film and 2005’s Hard Candy has officially proclaimed her status as one of the finest young actresses of the new generation. Michael Cera continues to solidify his niche as this generation’s Anthony Michael Hall (but with more talent and better comedic timing). Rounding out the stellar cast is Cera’s Arrested Development castmate Jason Bateman (whose comeback from oblivion continues in fine form), Jennifer Garner in a role that showcases her acting instead of high kicks (not that I mind those high kicks), J.K. Simmons in a non-screaming role and The West Wing’s Alison Janney.
Ellen Page is Juno, a sharp-tongued high school outsider who splits her time between playing her guitar, suffering through the pain that is high school and having experimental sex with her best bud Paulie Bleeker (Cera). Unfortunately, the whimsical copulation results in a little Juno in the oven. After careful consideration, Juno decides to keep the kid. Her father (Simmons) and step-mother (Janney) are surprisingly understanding and supportive. The plan is to give the baby up to a local beautiful couple, Vanessa (Garner) and Mark (Bateman) Loring. The story follows Juno’s nine month landslide from immaturity to full-on adulthood reality.
Although this is Juno’s story, Reitman and Cody also do an excellent job of balancing the other characters in such a way as to give each at least one shining moment. You get a strong sense of all the characters beyond mere surface stereotypes. Bateman and Garner ultimately play crucial roles as the story plays out and Cera, who disappears for a bit, eventually returns with some terrific moments that demonstrate a more dramatic range we haven’t really seen from him before.
Many are comparing Juno to Little Miss Sunshine, which is a fair comparison. Both are feel-good comedies that leave audiences exiting the theater with a smile. What’s interesting is that, while Little Miss Sunshine is about an extremely dysfunctional family, Juno is actually about one exceptionally functional, if only a little bit different, family, especially in light of the situation at hand. It’s great to see a family on film that doesn’t freak out at this all-too-common scenario. As alienated as Juno may feel, she’s actually surrounded by some pretty great people in her life.
Juno is a terrifically entertaining, spirited little film that impresses where so many of 2007’s highly anticipated films (Darjeeling Limited, In the Valley of Elah) have underwhelmed. On one hand, it’s a highly enjoyable, breezy little comedy, but Juno offers so much more beneath the surface. For one, it manages to carefully walk the tight rope of being a movie about a pregnant teen without taking the opportunity lay stance on the abortion debate. Bravo. Secondly, it’s a smart comedy that rarely resorts to low brow humor for a chuckle. And that’s not to say I don’t consider Superbad one of the most hysterical comedies of this year (or any other); it’s just a rarity these days. Finally, though some may accuse Juno of being too smart or witty for its own good, the rapid-fire pace of Cody’s dialogue flows smoothly from start to finish. Both Cody and Reitman display a pinpoint sense of timing that keeps audiences consistently on their feet even as they are laughing. And that may be an even rarer accomplishment.
Juno is a high recommendation, one of 2007's best and most enjoyable films.