by Mel Valentin
Directed by Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Not Smoking") and written by first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Candy Girl : A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper"), "Juno," a comedy-drama centered on a teen pregnancy, has all the hallmarks of an ABC Afternoon Special, except that it’s not, far from it, actually. Cody has as colorful, and therefore as compelling, a story as you’ll find for a first-time screenwriter. A former stripper-turned-blogger-turned-writer, Cody sold her first screenplay and less than two years later, "Juno" hit first the Telluride Festival then the Toronto Film Festival to critical acclaim. Distributed by Fox Searchlight ("Little Miss Sunshine," "Napoleon Dynamite"), "Juno" is as good or better than anything Fox Searchlight has distributed so far. At minimum, Cody’s screenplay will get nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category. Chances are, though, she’ll win and deservedly so.Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is sixteen, ultra-smart, hyper-articulate, and pregnant. Despite trying to will away her pregnancy and the misguided, unprotected sex she had with her best friend and sometime boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), there’s no doubt that Juno is pregnant. With only her best female friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), and Paulie knowing about her pregnancy, Juno first considers an abortion, but a change of heart and a change of mind leads her to keep the baby. Juno informs her disapproving, if no less supportive father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney), of her pregnancy and her decision to give the baby away for adoption. With Leah’s help, Juno finds the “perfect couple,” Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner).
"Oscar nominations all around, please."
Mark and Vanessa are desperate for children. A former musician, Mark writes music for commercials. Vanessa works a high-pressure, well paying corporate job. Together, they live in a McMansion. While Juno seems determined to give her unborn baby away to the Lorings, she has to cope with the disapproval of her peers and teachers, the (apparent) end of her relationship with Paulie, whom she still cares about, and the physical changes that accompany a pregnancy. But Juno’s presence in Mark and Vanessa’s lives cause unexpected complications and fissures in the Lorings’ seemingly perfect relationship. Ultimately, Juno, Paulie, Mark, and Vanessa get, if not what she wants, then what they needs.
Cody’s screenplay perfectly balances comedy, drama, pop culture references, all the while avoiding the usual clichés or sermonizing that we’ve become accustomed to experiencing whenever the words “teen pregnancy” are uttered. She gets it all: story, structure, character, and conflict. Cody assiduously avoids platitudinizing; instead letting the hyper-verbal Juno and the supporting characters find their way through the various complications, setbacks, and difficult decisions associated with pregnancy. Cody never lets the subject overwhelm the characters, never letting Juno get too self-consciously serious. It helps, of course, that Juno is so smart, always ready to hand out quips wherever or whenever she needs to cut someone in authority down, that it’s hard not to admire her, even if, Juno is more “wish-fulfillment” than a character with a real world analogue.As brilliant as Cody’s script is (and it is), "Juno" wouldn’t be much without Jason Reitman’s unobtrusive, and therefore, complementary direction, Reitman’s soundtrack choices (everything from The Moldy Peaches to Mott the Hoople), and Ellen Page’s winning performance as Juno. Page gives a remarkable, nuanced performance, using her expressive features, gestures, and body language to reflect Juno’s chaotic inner life. She’s nothing less than riveting in every scene she’s in, meaning, of course, that she outshines the rest of the cast. Despite that, Cody’s script gives the supporting cast talent-stretching character moments, but that’s all they are, character moments. Not surprisingly, "Juno" belongs to the endearing, engaging, wholly original title character.
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originally posted: 12/06/07 16:15:02