Directed by: Jason Reitman
Premise: A sarcastic teenager (Ellen Page) gets pregnant and plans to give her baby to a couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) unable to produce a child.
What Works: Juno is another great film from director Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) and he shows a mastery of both comedic and dramatic material, which Juno includes in equal amounts. Former Minnesota resident Diablo Cody wrote the film, and Juno has a very Midwestern sensibility in its humor and its characterizations. Ellen Page plays the title character and she gives a great performance as the pregnant teen. Page gives her character a cynicism that manifests itself in dialogue that is smart and sharp but the character is also allowed a great deal of vulnerability, especially in the third act. Other characters possess this as well, most notably Michael Cera as the father of Juno’s baby. He does not get much screen time, but he uses what he is given to really deliver as full of a character as he can. Juno deals with the hot topic of teen sexuality in a very complex and admirable way. The film does not condemn Juno’s sexuality or pregnancy as though it were some unspeakable atrocity, but it does not whitewash the subject either. Instead, the film explores how the pregnancy alters Juno’s relationship with her peers and with her family and the challenges that she encounters as a pregnant teen. This is a sensitive and intelligent portrayal of sexuality and parenthood that is seriously lacking in most American film.
What Doesn’t: Ellen Page is simultaneously the film’s biggest strength and its greatest liability. Her scenes are extremely well acted, the dialogue is delivered perfectly, and the change in her character in act three hits all the right buttons, but Juno’s constant sarcasm throughout the first and second act makes the film feel as though it is a forum for Page’s smart ass-teen shtick, much like early Jim Carrey films like Ace Venture: Pet Detective. This reliance on one-liners comes across as a dodge for the lack of story or character development throughout the middle of the film.
Bottom Line: Juno is a joy to watch, even if it comes up a bit short on substance. The film stands one rung down from Saved! and Knocked Up, but it is at least parallel, if not superior to, American Pie and it balances the drama and the laughs in very admirable ways.
Episode: #173 (January 6, 2008)