I’m an unabashed John Green lover, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a strong stomach for twee teen dialogue. That said, the first 15 minutes of this movie strain even the most patient ears, especially Rainn Wilson’s absolutely horrid turn as a convenience store clerk.
Thankfully, Juno pivots towards its teen pregnancy dramatic arc and becomes a legitimately fantastic dramedy for most of its brisk 95 minutes.
Elliot Page is indescribably great as the title character, cracking jokes for an hour and half straight. His comic delivery is hilarious, like every bit worthy of his Oscar nomination, but never at the expense of conveying the painful nuances of Juno’s situation. He adds shading to every dramatic moment to make Juno feel so human and fully-realized, flawed but strong, that I almost wish the movie was a half hour longer.
Honestly, there’s not much of a weak link in the cast. Rattle through the leads and supporting roles, and nearly every one elevates their material: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, JK Simmons, Michael Cera, Allison Janney. Olivia Thirlby’s turn is maybe a little bit spotty but fine.
Despite the script’s quippy timbre, it captures a lot of scenarios with complexity and darkness: When Juno jokes that Vanessa should just get pregnant herself, an awkward twinge went down my spine, and it wasn’t the only time. Being 16 is thrilling, but you’re also not able to see the landscape of adult problems yet.
That brings me to the movie’s biggest wart: Bateman’s character Mark and his escalating flirtation with Juno. I’m not sure the movie would be better without that thread, because it informs Mark’s arc so well, and Juno’s too. But it would certainly be a more enjoyable film: It’s just so creepy watching Mark and Juno play romcom-cute with each other… perhaps more creepy than screenwriter Diablo Cody or director Jason Reitman actually intended.
But the film more than makes up for it with its heart-expanding depiction of Jennifer Garner’s character Vanessa, a woman filled with maternal love. The film’s closing moments, with Garner reacting to her new motherhood, legitimately brought me to tears. Parenthood is a miracle, man.
The movie’s romantic subplot between Page and Cera is another one of the film’s weaknesses, but only in the sense that it’s underdeveloped. The two have chemistry, but it’s hard to get a sense of their relationship at any point. (And I wish the movie had been a bit more sensitive to the weird role of Bleeker in all of this. As an involved dad myself, seeing Bleeker’s obvious desire to help Juno so carelessly brushed aside is disheartening.)
This is the second film by Reitman, son of the famous Ghostbusters director Ivan, following Thank You for Smoking. (Jason would eventually direct a legacy sequel of his father’s franchise.) It’s a much better work than Thank You for Smoking. Reitman injects the film with humanity and visual wit, plus an overall appealing look that inches towards “twee” without quite crossing over.
Overall, it’s a great but not perfect film, one worth revisiting in no small part because of it’s generationally great lead performance by Page.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100