In the afterglow of his elegantly satirical Thank You for Smoking, Jason Reitman has turned to another hot topic: teen pregnancy. The title character of Juno is a wisp of a 16-year-old girl (Ellen Page) whose mouth, symbolically speaking, would be better suited to a much larger person. Her saga, which she narrates with sarcastic brio, first looks back at a sudden, awkward sexual initiation that startles the equally inexperienced Paulie (Michael Cera). Neither of them is ready for the serious consequence of their coupling. So the preternaturally precocious protagonist, deciding not to have an abortion, looks through a shopper’s guide for ads placed by people hoping to adopt a newborn.
Juno’s father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney) are mostly supportive, having long ago learned that this teen is far more quick-witted and independent than others in her age group. In fact, she’s an outcast at school with only one real friend (Olivia Thirlby). Yet Juno forms a strange bond, primarily over music, with Mark (Jason Bateman). He and wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), the upscale prospective parents, could provide a nice home for the baby, but the plan hits a few unanticipated hurdles.
The primary problem with Reitman’s effort is that it’s like two separate films spliced together. Initially, Juno’s such a smart-ass, you want to slap her upside the head. And the youngsters speed-talk with stilted lingo: “I’ve got to go, pronto!” or “What’s the prognosis, fertile Myrtle?” Just when a viewer is growing accustomed to this artifice, the dialogue switches to a more natural tempo and tone during the second half. As a result, there’s finally room for the deeper emotional lives of all these characters to emerge. They do so beautifully, achingly, artfully. What begins as an extended joke becomes a lovely slice of life.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney and Olivia Thirlby
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Diablo Cody
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick and Russell Smith
Genre: Comedy drama
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language
Running time: 96 min.
Release date: December 5, 2007 NY/LA