Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Reitman
One of my fellow critics, whom I won’t name because this makes me want to strangle him, said that Juno was Knocked Up-lite. I’d scream with rage and frustration, except that Juno is so damn good, so damn relevant that I am becalmed. Like Waitress, the similarly themed chick flick from earlier this year, this is a heightened, brightened glide through one of life’s big phases.
Like Waitress, this is snarly-funny and whipsmart-witty enough that if you don’t want to take any deeper wisdom from it, you don’t have to, and you can still have a wonderfully good time.
But if you care to look for juicy bits of meaty substance concerning the power of genuine friendship, the promise and hope that accompanies new babies, and the unexpected expansion of your own self when you suddenly see other people, well, that’s all here to be had.
It’s a familiar tale, though one rarely told with such insight or such casual acceptance: Juno MacGuff, high schooler (Ellen Page, who between this and last year’s startling Hard Candy is headed for stardom), finds herself preggers after some sexual experimentation with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (sweet-faced Michael Cera, also seen in this summer’s Superbad).
Her dad and stepmom (the ever indispensable J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) are stunned for only a brief moment, then immediately supportive. Right from the get-go, and on through the whole film, there’s a refreshingly nonpanicky approach to the whole situation: Yes, having a baby, especially at a young age, can dramatically impact the rest of a young woman’s life, and yes, it’s nothing to be taken too lightly, but on the other hand, it’s not the end of the world. Just ask Jamie Lynn Spears.
It’s a baby, that’s all — something humanity has been dealing with since forever.
Sure, the kids at school give Juno and her ever-expanding midsection the sly eye, and sure, her parents briefly wonder whether it wouldn’t be better if their daughter’s “big news” were that she’d been expelled from school or was doing drugs, but the entirety of the rest of the film (written by the deliciously named Diablo Cody) assuages such thoughts.
The fact that it’s her decision to seek out a couple to adopt her baby is what breathes the sweet, funny, awkward real life into the film: Growing up isn’t just about making the best of the mess you find yourself in, but figuring out what’s best when that’s not always clear.
Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman are a well-off professional couple whom working-class Juno finds herself temporarily hitched to. They want in on every moment of Juno’s pregnancy in advance of taking her baby as their own and they are just one more confused and confusing encounter on Juno’s crooked path to herself. They’re not as perfect as they seem, but they, too, are beautiful and authentic in their imperfection.
Director Jason Reitman gave us 2005’s cunning Thank You for Smoking, but here he grows as a filmmaker by melding the snarky with the shrewd. He doesn’t knock getting knocked up, nor does he sentimentally celebrate it, either. He merely recognizes it, in a simple, gloriously human way, as part of this crazy old thing called life, which rarely accedes to our wishes to unfold the way we want it to.