Talk about a distinctive new voice: the first film from screenwriter (and ex-stripper) Diablo Cody has so much personality it can barely contain itself. Strong female roles haven’t been in abundance over the past 12 months, but Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) would stand out in any crowd. A whip-smart teenager who drops one-liners like other kids drop their aitches, she’s as caustic as battery acid but less hard-boiled than she shows. She’s even carrying a thing for sweet geek Bleeker (Michael Cera): a thing that shows up positive on every pregnancy test she can lay her hands on, no matter how much Sunny Delight she drinks. Bummer...
To general consternation Juno decides to have the baby. But she doesn’t mean to keep it. Instead she places an ad in the classifieds to find suitable adoptive parents. Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) seem just about perfect. Unlike Juno’s own folks, they’re wealthy, attractive, and relatively young - and Vanessa is desperate for a kid. But it’s Mark that Juno really takes a shine to. He’s an unsung guitar hero turned jingle-composer. They bond over a love of ‘The Wizard of Gore’, splatter director Herschell Gordon Lewis. In short, Mark is a lot like one of the pop-savvy slackers populating Knocked Up, this time seen from a young female perspective. He’s hip and fun – but is he really the parental paragon Juno imagines him to be?
Cody’s highly stylised teen-speak is relentless – even the adults talk in quips – and not all of Thank You For Smoking director Jason Reitman’s indie quirks feel embedded in the story (such as a pointless running gag about Bleeker’s track and field teammates). But the movie is peppered with, well, belly laughs – and has more emotional texture than is normally expected from such comedy fodder.
It’s also a career-making movie for the 20-year-old Page, building beautifully on her breakout turn in Hard Candy. Could an Oscar nomination be on the cards? It’s certainly no more than her due...
Any worries about which side of the abortion debate this comes down on are misplaced. Yes, Juno is the smartest cookie in the jar. But what’s really great about her is that she doesn’t apologise for who she is or what she wants. She simply exercises her right to choose. All in all, that makes her an unlikely poster child for the God squad.
Page aside, erstwhile Arrested Development cast-mates Jason Bateman and Michael Cera deliver fine performances, while even Jennifer Garner is allowed a late grace note or three as the initially uninteresting Vanessa. She may not be cool, but she’s, you know, nice, which might be just as good a quality in a prospective mum.
In the end, old pros JK Simmons and Allison Janney jog away with the show as the senior MacGuffs. Their reaction to Juno’s pregnancy is a priceless moment in a film that boasts more than its fair share.
The sassiest teen pregnancy comedy you could hope for, this hyper-quotable first effort from writer Diablo Cody is smart and cynical on the outside, heartfelt underneath. In one of the performances of the year, Page truly delivers.
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