“Gee Juno; I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when”
“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am”
And thus begins the journey of Juno MacGuff, a 16 year-old who finds herself pregnant after sleeping with her best friend in lieu of watching The Blair Witch Project. Written by newcomer Diablo Cody and winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Juno is a refreshingly frank and hilarious perspective on a very real and often controversial issue – teenage pregnancy. Impeccably directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking), Cody’s script is brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast who skillfully transcend what could easily have become Lifetime Movie territory. Canadian actress Ellen Page is dead on as Juno, flawlessly delivering Cody’s sharp dialogue as if she were enacting her own biography. She is backed by tremendously talented actors including J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, as her reluctantly supportive parents, and Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as a reproductively challenged young couple seeking to adopt. Of course there would be no story without Paulie Bleeker, the endearingly awkward object of Juno’s affection, played by a quietly comical and sensitive Michael Cera (Superbad, Arrested Development).
Relationships are the heart of this uniquely poignant film and Reitman deserves accolades for his exploration of parenting, specifically the journey of motherhood which is deftly navigated by his female leads. As is the case in many films with teen female protagonists, Juno’s mother is absent, relocated to New Mexico with a new husband and three replacement kids. Juno’s relationship to her is marked only by a cactus plant sent every year on her birthday – “Gee thanks mom, this cacto-gram stings worse than your abandonment.” However, she is not without female support having lived the past ten years with her stepmother Bren, played by the always amazing Janney who gracefully maneuvers the challenging emotions of not being an original parent with a genuine care for her step-daughter. In one of the most memorable and uncomfortably touching scenes Bren goes off during Juno’s ultrasound suggesting to the judgmental technician that she “Go back to night school in Manteo and learn a real trade.”
As illustrated in Smoking, Reitman has a tremendous talent for tackling socially relevant topics in an extremely approachable and entertaining manner. Juno’s first response to her pregnancy is a suicide attempt with a licorice noose in her front yard, followed by a news-breaking conversation with her friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) on a hamburger phone. And while the young director could have could easily ridden the success of what was already an exceptionally smart script and cast, it is surely his choices – from the animated opening credits to the flawless set and costume design – that woke audiences to this year’s surprise sleeper hit. The cherry on top of Reitman’s cinematic sundae is the film’s score. Motivated by a suggestion from Page, indie singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson contributes the bulk of the soundtrack, with additional tracks by The Velvet Underground, Belle & Sebastian and Cat Power. In an era where soundtracks have become revenue- generating after thought, Dawson’s bittersweet ditties are the musical manifestation of Juno herself. Released in rare form on orange vinyl, Juno’s soundtrack is the wrapping on the newest gift in the family of classic cult films.