Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/30/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Jason Reitman and written by newcomer Diablo Cody, Juno is about a young girl from a small town who suddenly gets pregnant. Deciding to give the baby away to a couple, she begins to deal with the changes in her life and such. While Reitman's previous film was a satire on the tobacco industry, this film is more about a young girl's pregnancy and how her family and friends deal with this experience. Starring Ellen Page, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Olivia Thirlby, and Rainn Wilson. Juno is a charming, witty film from Jason Reitman.
Juno MacGuff is a 16-year old high school student who just discovered that she's pregnant after trying three pregnancy tests at a convenience store. Realizing the father is her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she remembers that the conception happened out of boredom one night. Calling her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), she suggests that Juno to go to an abortion clinic but cold feet makes her change her mind. With help from Leah, Juno searches for the Penny Savers to find a couple to give the baby up for adoption. After finding the right couple, Juno tells her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney) about her pregnancy and plans to give it up for adoption.
Juno and Mac then meet the couple they're going to give the baby to in the form of middle-class, posh suburban Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) as Juno just wants to give the baby away. Though she is amused by their yuppie lifestyle, she learns Mark is a music composer for commercials with love for alternative rock and old-school horror films. While Vanessa is excited about having a baby, Mark seems more interested in his own world as he and Juno bond over music and horror films. With support from Mac and Bren, Juno deals with her newfound role as a 16-year old pregnant teenager while her friendship with Paulie is becoming shaky as they hope to reform their old band. Hanging out with Mark, Juno learns about their previous attempts to adopt when she and Leah meet Vanessa at the mall and her love for children.
By the spring and in the final stages of the pregnancy, Juno learns that Paulie might go to the prom with Katrina De Vroot (Ashley Whillans), a girl Paulie claimed he doesn't like. A falling out ensues as Juno decides to meet Mark where she learns about his relationship with Vanessa starting to falter. The sense of disillusionment over adulthood and love force Juno to confront with realities she is too young to face as she tries to find a way to deal with everything. Even as her child is about to come out.
If a film about teenage pregnancy was done in a Hollywood style, it wouldn't work because it's tendency to sugarcoat something or make an entire situation look very silly. Yet, in the mind of director Jason Reitman and first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, this is a film that doesn't pander down to Hollywood conventions or anything that's expected for a typical teenager. Instead, the whole film feels very real yet is done with a lot of sarcastic humor and realism, particularly in how high school is. Juno is a character who is essentially a loner with a few friends though she and Leah are in different social circles. Yet, Juno gets by with her own sarcasm, love of punk rock and alternative music, and her individuality that is both her strength and weakness.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody does a fantastic job with this amazing screenplay that is filled with a lot of heart, humor, and moments that audiences can relate to. Whether it's life in high school or dealing with adult situations that a 16 year old might not handle at all. Cody's script is very smart in the way characters are developed and such, notably the character of Vanessa. She's a woman who might seem like a typical, WASP-like character who is so giddy about having a child. Yet, when Juno gets to know her, there's a whole lot more to Vanessa as this woman who wants to be a mother. It's part of Cody's study of character that reveals that even though Juno is this kind of smart-aleck teenage girl, she is a real teenage girl that teenagers can relate to.
This is where Jason Reitman's direction is at it's best. While Reitman’s approach to humor is more subtle than his father, he really takes a huge step forward as far as approaching a film like this. Whereas his debut film Thank You for Smoking was a satire that was stylish yet worked in some parts, Juno really shows Reitman taking his direction to a more intimate level. It doesn't look overlit or forced so the result seems relaxed and natural that includes a wonderful opening credit sequence that's done in animation. Even the compositions are great to emphasize the moments of drama and humor as Reitman really shines with his direction that is overall solid.
Cinematographer Eric Steelberg does an excellent job with the film's cinematography that has a more natural look with wonderful colors and grey-like footage to showcase the differing look of the seasons from autumn to summer. Whereas the entire film has this look that is colorful yet desolate, it works to convey the look as well as the mood of the film. Editor Dana E. Glauberman does great work with the film's editing to convey the film's quirky tone with the use of jump-cuts and fade-outs to work the film's structure and changing of the seasons. Production designer Steve Sakland along with art directors Michael Diner and Catherine Schroer do great work in presenting the different places of Juno's world from the posh-like suburbia of the Lorings, the rooms of Leah and Paulie, to the working-class home of the MacGuff family that is very real with loads of props including the cheeseburger phone that is actually owned by screenwriter Diablo Cody.
Costume designer Monique Prodhomme does excellent work with the look of the high school track clothes that Paulie wears with those yellow short-shorts, red shirt, and yellow headband. It's funny and a bit creepy while the overall costume works to convey the personalities of each character. Sound editors Barney Carbal and Perry Robertson do a fantastic job with the film's sound, notably a scene of dramatic tension at the abortion clinic that forces Juno to make a drastic decision that works for laughs and such. The film's folky score by Matt Messina with chimes and such is wonderful plaintive as it conveys a Hal Ashby like feel reminiscent of his 1971 classic film Harold & Maude that featured the music of Cat Stevens.
The soundtrack is amazing and definitely one of the year's best. Featuring songs by Kimya Dawson and her former band the Moldy Peaches, the soundtrack is wonderful in conveying Juno's quirky little world that also features music from Sonic Youth covering the Carpenters' Superstar, Belle & Sebastian, the Kinks, Buddy Holly, Cat Power, the Velvet Underground, and Mott the Hoople's classic song All The Young Dudes written by David Bowie. It's a great soundtrack that is similar to the style of the film soundtracks of Wes Anderson but with a great selection while the music is used to great effect.
The film's cast is wonderfully assembled with small roles from Ashley Whillans as Katrina De Vroot whom Juno refers to as Soupy Sales, Kaaren de Zilva as an Ultrasound technician, Steven Christopher Parker and Candice Accola as Juno's lab partners who were fighting each other in a scene, Valerie Tian as Juno's schoolmate Su-Chin who is an abortion protester, Darla Vandenbossche as Bleeker's mom, and Sierra Pitkin as Juno's little sister Liberty Bell. Emily Perkins of Ginger Snaps fame makes a great appearance as pierced receptionist who looks very punk and twisted while Rainn Wilson is funny as a convenience store clerk who makes funny remarks to Juno's pregnancy.
Newcomer Olivia Thirlby is excellent as Juno's sexy best friend Leah, a cheerleader who helps Juno in finding the right parents while having to be one of her few real friends during this moment as Leah is also interested in old, adult teachers. Allison Janney is great as Juno's step-mother Bren who might seem like a typical mother but has her funny one-liners as she supports her step-daughter while saying the right, funny things in the film. J.K. Simmons is also great and funny as Mac MacGruff, an old army veteran who supports his daughter while giving her quirky advice on life and such. Jason Bateman is wonderful as Mark Loring, a man not sure about being a father as his desires to be a rock musician is in conflict as he desperately tries to hold on to his youth.
Jennifer Garner is amazing as Vanessa Loring, a loving, caring woman whose desires to be a mother is in conflict as she is pondering about her own maternal instincts despite her cheery personality. Garner may not have moments of humor but she holds her own as a woman who realizes she might have what it takes. Michael Cera is a joy to watch as Paulie Bleeker, this skinny kid wearing short-shorts who represents the kind of awkwardness of this young man who knows isn’t ready to be a father while trying to deal with being a young man growing up. Cera's performance is great while he does look fantastic in those yellow short-shorts, red shirt, and yellow bandana.
Then there's Ellen Page in what has to be one of the year's best performances by an actress. The 20-year old Canadian actress definitely shows her range as this quirky, offbeat young woman who tries to deal with this new reality while making her way in life through her sarcasm. Page's performance is a knock-out as she not only carries the film with such ease as well as natural humor and depth into playing a real-life teenager. This is truly Ellen Page's film all the way as she makes a star-making turn in this great performance.
Juno is a flat-out humorous, sweet, entertaining, and realistic masterpiece from Jason Reitman and company led by Ellen Page's winning performance and a funny script from Diablo Cody. Featuring a great ensemble cast and a superb soundtrack, it's a film that has a nice mix of humor and drama about teenage pregnancy without all of the sentimental mush that often revolves around these films. In the end, Juno is a phenomenal film from Jason Reitman.
Jason Reitman Films: Thank You for Smoking - Up in the Air - Young Adult - Labor Day - (Men, Women, & Children) - Tully - (The Front Runner) - The Auteurs #30: Jason Reitman
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