|Cast:||Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons|
|Released:||Wednesday, December 5, 2007|
|Studio:||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Rating:||Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.|
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a whip-smart teen confronting an unplanned pregnancy by her classmate Bleeker (Michael Cera). With the help of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), Juno finds her unborn child a perfect set of parents: an affluent suburban couple, Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), longing to adopt. Luckily, Juno has the total support of her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) as she faces some tough decisions, flirts with adulthood and ultimately figures out where she belongs.
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Teen pregnancy in, fiction (as well as real life), has some absolutely defining features. The most prominent is the moral atmosphere around abortion. The second is around the social consequences both at school and at home. Finally, if life is chosen and the girl isn't the victim of an honor killing, there's the question of adoption. At each step the protagonist suffers each choice (and its consequences) as the result of what is almost universally got to be a single bad decision: the sex act (which can be made even more poignant if the two used protection and it failed!). Even without the act's overarching judgment point, each of these decisions is grim in its raw form.
The brilliance of Juno is that the tension in the movie comes from none of these. In Juno, the euphoniously named title character is pregnant, yes, but the tension and drama come from none of these elements. Each of them--the decision to abort, the judgment over the sex-act, the societal reaction--each of them to a one--is played for laughs. The movie's a comedy of sorts (but that isn't to say it doesn't have heart--nor go straight for yours).
The key to this is the character of Juno played by Ellen Page who is so off-beat without being simply rebellious that she's one of the most-charming characters ever. If the movie stumbles anywhere it's with her dialog which is so infused with slang and clever phrases (she refers to herself as a 'Cautionary Whale') that it's like Joss Whedon on crystal meth. I have to note that the other performances from the entire cast including notably her boyfriend (Michael Cera) and father and mother (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) were so strong as to sweep the Critic's Choice Awards.
Instead of deriving tension from the usual places, Juno's dramatic engine is fueled from a far more surprising source: the couple to whom Juno decides to give up her baby. It's difficult to talk about it without giving away spoilers but I will say that the movie does both played fair and managed to take me quite by surprise in its plot maneuvers. It also avoids lapsing into either melodrama or absurdity (no one turns out to be a serial killer, there are no sudden car-crashes or bizarre reveals).
Construction-wise, the film is tight using the motif of the track team (the boy friend is a member) to frame various seasonal changes and transitions. With a self-assured story-line it simply doesn't need extraneous bad-guys so we get a world that, although unfortunate (or even bad) things happen, everyone from the guy at the neighborhood store to the parents to the teachers to the jocks to the cheerleaders can actually be pretty nice to each other while still feeling human. If such a small town really existed (and it's the fictional town of Dancing Elk, Minnesota) I think I'd like to live there.
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