In a year where independent film was laden with dramas about war and violence, this film is a refreshing comedy with warmth and endearing characters. The legendary Roger Ebert (that old softie) recently listed his top films of the year and placed Juno at number one. I’m not sure I can give it that honor in a year packed with great films, but I will say it’s my favorite that doesn’t involve a Country that isn’t for Old Men.
Juno is a quirky 16-year-old with a speech pattern filled with rapid fire sarcasm and hip pop culture references. Her brash wit comes off to an audience exactly like the characters she meets in the story. First you’re a little thrown by her blunt independence, but eventually you can’t help but love her.
One day Juno randomly has sex with her friend Paulie Bleeker (master of awkward humor Michael Cera), which of course leads to an unwanted pregnancy. Faced with a difficult decision, she discusses it with her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) on her hamburger phone and opts for an abortion. But when she goes for her appointment, she runs into a classmate protester, a clerk offering her blueberry condoms, and the reality of the situation. So plan B is to give the baby away. With the help of Leah, she sees a picture for a suitable couple in the Penny Savers “next to the exotic pet ads.”
Juno is played beautifully by the ultra cute Ellen Page, who is undoubtedly the next big thing. Page captures the quipping false confident side of Juno as well as the smooth transition to maturity where life isn’t so simple. As the film progresses, her nonchalant facade gives way to the troubled social outcast underneath. Juno now replaces Pony Boy Curtis as my favorite outsider.
The couple she finds is Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), an upper-class family with a facade of their own. Their neatly decorated house is home to a quiet resentment between the overbearing mother-to-be and the faded rocker. After Juno agrees to give them her first born and befriends Mark over hipster music and slasher films, she realizes this couple isn’t so picture perfect after all.
The script was written by first time screenwriter Diablo Cody and is layered with a variety of real emotions for the audience. From the sweet moments between Paulie and Juno to the hilarious lines delivered by her concerned, yet supportive parents. There are more heartfelt scenes and out-loud laughs than any other film this year.
The film played perfectly with the audience I saw it with. It was refreshing to see a packed room full of people from different generations genuinely having a good time. A few times the crowd was laughing so loud they missed the immediate joke that followed. A sign of a great comedy.
In his sophomore outing, Jason Reitman proves that Thank You For Smoking wasn’t a fluke. Instead of creating a conventional story arc with distinct moving parts, he creates a Juno-centric world where we watch her grow with her fetus. And it’s incredibly enjoyable experience.