Jason Reitman has another unusual hit on his hands with ‘Juno’. Why unusual? Because his last film, ‘Thank You For Smoking’ was a hilarious, biting satire about the tobacco business. And it’s not an easy task to be satirical and likable about such a topic. Jason got plenty of flak from people who thought he was supporting the tobacco industry. Yes, satire is hard to do these days – people tend to get upset by the face value of it before they ‘get’ the in-between-the-lines message. ‘Juno’ uses sorta the same idea – except completely different. It also deals with a delicate subject with reason, and with understanding. Not really picking sides, but rather exploring the human nature of a finicky situation. This time, the subject is unplanned teen pregnancy, and the approach is somewhat different. No cynicism, no satire. But so much love, and so much diffusing humour that you can’t help but roar with laughter, even though the characters are going through some tough times.
It’s hard to say who or what in that movie steals the show – there are so many fantastic elements to it. From the soundtrack to writing to credits to cast, everything works. The main and secondary players know their place and stay within their roles, giving just enough, but never too much. The intro and conclusion are believable, the human reactions and interactions are true. This film is just right, in many ways. I don’t remember the last time I saw a film with so many elements gelling so well.
The first thing you notice is the female lead, Juno (played by Ellen Page, from Hard Candy). She plays a teenager with so much conviction, and so much wisdom, you almost wish all teenagers were that informed. Except for the fact we learn right away – she got preggers by accident. See what I mean – it’s a serious situation, but is presented in a funny way. Big deal, people make mistakes, and in many comedies they are punished for those mistakes, or mocked. In this film, many turns in the plot are unexpected, in a good way. After Juno confronts her parents (wonderful J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney), they are relieved it’s ‘nothing serious like drug addiction’. After all, Juno has a plan: she gives birth to a healthy baby and finds a good couple that can adopt. Some may say that this is an amoral decision for a sinful, shameful disgression, but it makes so much sense. She’s just a kid. She needs to finish school. And there are so many couples out there who just can’t conceive. Her mom takes her to a gynecologist, and her dad helps look for a good, down-to-earth couple. Problem solved.
This is where the second highlight of the movie starts to come out – the sharp, brilliant plot. Juno finds a couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), and spends the next 8 months trying to get to know the parents of her child, without getting too close to them – she doesn’t want the kid to know the truth. Juno also manages to deal with the real father, a geeky athlete Paulie (Michael Cera), and maintain a normal high-school life. You wouldn’t believe which of these three tasks get more importance in her daily routine, but it just makes sense.
Which brings us to the third highlight – the cast. The yuppy, comfortable-in-their-polished-new-subdivision couple is believable, with their advantages and challenges; the reluctant boyfriend, way too young to even assess what this pregnancy means – is dead on, courtesy of Michael Cera; the parents who try to help but keep their distance because Juno’s trying to do this on her own terms – are reserved and wise. Even the obligatory female friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) sells her part by being supportive when it matters, and just poking fun at Juno’s appearance, her appetite, her decisionmaking – just like any other high-schooler would. No, without using bodily functions, the way it’s presented in every teen comedy. Yes, big screen teens can be funny without mooning the audience, and poignant without camera closeups or swelling music. Who would have thought.
…So we all sat there, roaring along with the characters (and occasionally, at them), seeing our past follies in them, and being amazed just how honestly, and accurately they’re being portrayed. We may not have handled that particular crisis as well (be it a pregnancy, addiction, bullying or just getting bad marks in school), but we would love to be surrounded by such friends, and such family. It was a fantastic experience, and a sharp, down-to-earth script that was delivered well by a professional cast. By the way, the screenwriter is Diablo Cody, and if the above review doesn’t get you into the theater – with your boyfriend, or your teenage kids – just look her up online and read her biography. This movie is simply perfect. Kind, funny, honest, personal and yet deals with very serious issues. Find it in theaters when it’s out. Best way to assess your neighborhood or city is to see it with a whole bunch of strangers in the room. You’ll see what I mean.