Last Saturday, I saw Juno from the second row of a sold-out E street auditorium.
The retro look of the cell-shaded credit sequence reminded me of that of You can’t Do That on Television, the first of many 80s references. The tone is immediately set with a scene between Juno (Ellen Page) and a convenience store counter jockey (Rainn Wilson): with lines like “this is one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet,” it’s clear that the dialogue will be stylized hipster-ese. Luckily, I think the script balances the hypercool jargon with enough realism, preventing it from falling over the cliff of self-parody like Napoleon Dynamite.
The tight script is held together by great performances from nearly everyone involved, which is definitely a testament to the casting. Ellen Page is a developing star with range, as evidenced by the contrast between this role and her breakout one in Hard Candy. Arrested Development alumni Jason Bateman and Michael Cera (who are never on-screen together, unfortunately) both play guys affected by pregnancy who have difficulty adapting to the circumstances. Bateman, as the castrated former rocker, is too nice to root against, even if the character is less than admirable. If anything, Cera is underutilized, leading the love story element of the film to be a bit unfulfilling. Allison Janney and JK Simmons are the Best Parents Ever, quickly getting beyond the hangups of teen pregnancy and looking out for their daughter. Even newcomer Olivia Thirlby contributes, going beyond the typical best friend role.
The lone exception to the skilled casting and acting, and the film’s glaring weakness, is Jennifer Garner as mother-to-be Vanessa. Her bad acting distracts, especially against everyone else, and it unnecessarily complicates matters. Whether or not she actually has an unquenched maternal drive, or if she justs feels compelled by the pressures of suburban adulthood, is unclear due to a particularly flat performance (its probably the former). I would have loved to see Amanda Peet in this role, or anyone able to both emote and deadpan.
Jason Reitman turns in another solid satire, albeit one with a less biting script than Thank You For Smoking. While I don’t recall any specifics about his directorial style, I attribute the balanced structure of the picture to him. Keeping it grounded in character and story gives the film a lot of heart.
The press coverage of Juno has focused on the hype (“it’s the next Little Miss Sunshine!”), reading into it pro-choice/pro-life arguments, and comparing it to Knocked Up (from the girl’s perspective). However, I think that all misses the point: at it’s core, Juno is a simple, sweet story about less-than-perfect circumstances with an irreverence that is endearing and not mean-spirited. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next efforts from everyone involved.
My Rating: 4 out of a possible 5 Fetuses