JUNO directed by Jason Reitman, written by Diablo Cody, with Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. A Fox Searchlight release. 92 minutes. Opens Friday (December 14). Rating: NNN
Juno’s heroine, Juno Macguff (Ellen Page), was named after the Roman goddess. So it’s fitting that the film resembles some kind of mythical creature with the head of one animal but the body of another.
Jason Reitman’s “black comedy about teenage pregnancy” is two films in one. Either would make a good flick on its own; together, they don’t quite work.
The head of this beast is the story of quippy teen Juno, who has sex with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Arrested Development’s Michael Cera), gets pregnant and, in the interests of not making the film a short (as screenwriter Diablo Cody says), decides to stay that way.
It features unrealistically supportive parental units (J.K. Simmons and the divine Allison Janney), a BFF (Olivia Thirlby) who actually utters the line “Honest to blog?” and a convenience store clerk (Rainn Wilson in an oh-so-brief cameo) who says of Juno’s pregnancy test, “That ain’t no Etch-a-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.” Um. What?
But Page, Cera, et al. are talented and funny enough to pull this quirkiness off, and although “teen black comedy” is a bad marketing ploy since it instantly calls up comparison to the ne plus ultra of the genre, 1989’s Heathers, this half could be an enjoyable little picture.
The body of the beast, however, is about Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), the yuppie couple who are going to adopt the baby, as well as Juno’s relationship with Paulie and a meditation on the general fuck-upedness of life.Garner gives an amazing performance – watching the Alias badass go from Stepford wife to new mother will make you ache – and Bateman is likewise excellent as the husband who wants to recapture his youth through Juno.
Cera, who sadly shares no scenes with Bateman, his Arrested Development dad, has many of the same quirks he had on the TV show, but Bleeker’s more self-assured than George Michael Bluth ever was, and Cera and Page have lovely chemistry.
But the tonal shift is a tricky one, and as shiny as Cody’s dialogue may be, she doesn’t pull it off. Juno’s bleak humour and the soundtrack’s reliance on overly clever indie music are the only things binding the two halves together, and they aren’t enough. Juno, Vanessa and Mark are the only fully drawn characters; the rest, even Paulie, are two-dimensional.
The cast’s got the skills to fill in the blanks in the writing, and you can tell Cody has it in her to write a great film someday. It may be that she wanted to cram as much into this one as she could, in case it was her only shot. Judging by the buzz she’s been getting, she didn’t need to.