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February 12, 2008

Juno

Juno If you see the poster for Juno without knowing anything about the film, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s yet another teen movie with jokes that you didn’t even think were funny when you were at school. But hopefully you will have heard some of the talk around this relatively small film that’s been getting lots of attention recently, and is pulling in the punters.

Juno is an intelligent, spiky and quick-witted 16-year-old who, after deciding to have sex with her school pal Paulie, finds herself up the duff. But being a practical and level-headed kind of girl, she enlists the help of her best friend and finds the perfect adoptive parents for her unborn child: a well-to-do couple living in the suburbs. After breaking the news to her surprisingly supportive parents, meeting the prospective mum and dad and sorting out the legalities, Juno seems to have found the ideal solution to her sticky situation. But then the unexpected happens.

Some may say that writer Diablo Cody – who deservedly won the BAFTA on Sunday night for her fresh and original screenplay – was brave to tackle such a controversial subject. Depending on your views, you might find her handling of teen pregnancy rather flippant. Why should teenagers be able to freely hand over their babies and get on with their lives? Surely if they are old enough to have sex they’re old enough to be parents? Perhaps. But as the film progresses we, like Juno, realise that giving up a part of oneself that you can never get back is not as easy as it might seem. And as her stomach grows, she is forced to grow as a person.

One of the things that makes this film universally appealing is the fact that it doesn’t have a moral message or hidden agenda. Juno’s parents certainly aren’t enthralled when she tells them what’s happened, but their modern perspective on life and respect of their daughter’s personal choices make for a sturdy family bond that Juno clearly needs to help her through this “Garbage dump of a situation”, in spite of her apparent aplomb. We’re also given a glimpse of some of the prejudices that young expectant mothers have to face, from the biting comments of the ultrasound technician to the comical protestations of Juno’s anti-abortionist classmate who chants the slogan: “All babies want to get borned”.

Cody admits that she wrote Juno as an extension of herself and that’s why this brutally frank but charming girl deviates so much from the typical teen. You’d be hard-pushed to find a character like Juno in any of the usual coming-of-age fare. She’s not sexy, her dress sense is asexual and the sexual encounter in which she conceives is unsexy. But that’s the point; she’s not a stereotype, she’s real – and so are her other adolescent counterparts, who are spared the normal condescension you might get from a story scripted by an adult.

Ellen Page, best known for her role in the hugely affecting Hard Candy, is riveting as Juno. She fully realises the character that she’s meant to be by unveiling the right balance of charm, confidence, wit and emotion, at the right times. It would have been easy to overplay the part and slip into pretension, but Page is a versatile and mature young actress who’s proving that she can ably handle meaty roles. Likewise, the casting of Michael Cera as Paulie Bleeker is spot on. In any other film, looking as geeky as he does, he might be confined to the ranks of the no-hopers. But this is the boy who gets the girl, and not only that; he’s musical, sporty and has a bunch of his own buddies too.

JK Simmons is the perfect fit as Juno’s father. His one-liners – such as: “Juno has a wonderful sense of humour, just one of her many genetic gifts.” – seem to slip off his tongue with the ease of someone who’s done this acting thing many times before. Simmons knows he can be funny without even trying, but he never rests on his laurels and he never overshadows the other actors in a scene.

The gorgeous Jennifer Garner (Vanessa Loring) is totally convincing as the professional who, despite her successful career and affluence, will never find happiness until she has the baby she so desperately yearns for. While Jason Bateman’s endearing portrayal of Mark Loring, the guy who’s just not ready to grow up, makes us all empathise with his plight.

Jason Reitman, the brilliant mind behind 2005’s Thank You for Smoking and director of Juno, has essentially made a film about relationships. Some of those are strong, others fragile, others developing. But we can relate to them all because we’re forever trying to achieve the right balance in our own relationships.

Juno is out now at UK cinemas.

[Reviewed and posted by HC]

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