Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, Rainn Wilson
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Juno is this year’s indie comedy darling, charming festival audiences early enough in the year to draw critical raves and the attending buzz, along with the requisite backlash. Before getting to see the movie for myself, I read both resounding praise, hailing the movie’s quirky charm and a vocal minority of others who detested the movie’s indie quirk clichés.
The thing is, both groups are right. The early scenes in the movie were a bit grating, pushing its Wes Anderson-lite style and overly sardonic dialogue too far, with writer Diablo Cody overwriting each line in attempt to show off. The cast practically chokes on the dialogue, which serves to make its teenage characters even more insufferable than teenagers usually are.
Cody’s need to show off throughout the movie continues to be its biggest flaw, but as the movie progresses, she tones it down to let the movie develop and characters breathe. Luckily for the movie and director Jason Reitman, the cast is able to overcome the script deficiencies, managing to create a movie full of charm and wit that improves as it develops. The stand out is star Ellen Page, who plays the title character Juno, a 16-year-old who gets pregnant then navigates her way through pregnancy and a planned adoption. Juno is presented as a sardonic, precocious teen, with Page successfully able to get past the above-it-all attitude her character projects to find some genuine warmth and generate some genuine laughs.
Page is aided by a first rate cast, the kind of cast I’d put together were I suddenly hired to be a casting agent. Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons bring a maturity to the movie, helping crack the ironic veneer of the earlier scenes. Michael Cera continues to show his perfect comedic timing as the awkward boyfriend who impregnated Juno, while Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner provide the movie with its moving action as the prospective adopted parents. After Page, Garner is the highlight of the film, with her character originally coming off as a Type A shrew but later revealing some true depth and vulnerability that gives the movie its most poignant moments.
It’s the humanity that Page, Garner, Cera, Simmons, Janney, and Bateman infuse into the movie that allows it to get over some of Cody’s more showy passages or Reitman’s familiar indie trappings. Ultimately, the movie won me over, proving to be more about charm than quirk, with genuine wit winning out over ironic posturing more often than not.