Juno got a lot of positive press, at least in part because the screenwriter, Diablo Cody, is an ex-stripper with a rockabilly haircut and a knack for pseudo-ironic dialog that is either poking fun at the hipster ethos of “irony over all” or is paying homage to the same. Given how I chose to take the dialog, the latter would be pretty ironic. I try not to think about it too hard—it’s turtles all the way down.
The center of the movie is 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, played convincingly by Ellen Page who, no doubt, is headed to a fine career of being typecast as a string of characters 10 years younger than herself. Juno sucks on an unlit pipe, talks on a hamburger-shaped phone, and drives a Toyota Previa. Ironically. Actually, I don’t know if she drives ironically or not. To be honest, I’m not sure how one would go about driving ironically. It is a Previa, which is basically a minivan designed by Oswald Cobblepot, so I suppose later in the movie, after she’s been impregnated and is shaped like the ovum of a particularly large waterfowl, driving said van would be a kind of meta-irony. The father, or at least progenitor, of the fetus (which, we learn, already has fingernails) is the insipid Paulie Bleeker, played by the equally-insipid Michael Cera, at his insipid best which, ironically, is also his worst. Like I said. Turtles.
The movie is directed by Jason Reitman, who, judging solely by an interview with Roger Ebert and a review by Michael Phillips, is the real source of anything resembling art or class here. I can’t comment on that, not having seen Cody’s follow-up effort Jennifer’s Body (though if you have an internet connection, chances are you’ve seen the eponymous article). But I’m going to go ahead and give away the ending of this review by saying that I loved this movie, and at least 50% of the reasons why are a direct result of Mr. Reitman.
Reitman takes a unique perspective on almost every shot in the movie. Nothing seems accidental or unintentional here. Whenever Juno is on screen she’s off-center, echoing back the character’s inability to fit in with her surroundings. He uses tracking shots incredibly well, the camera following characters’ feet for a bit before the lens does a crawl up their figure to reveal the character’s face. Intentional or not, it gives the feeling that you’re seeing the world through the eyes of a slouching teen, the kind that has a moppy unisex haircut, carries around a skateboard, and listens to bands with names like Panic at the Disco.
This camera language is echoed back in a virtuoso shot later in the movie, when Juno tours the house of the prospective adoptive parents of Bleeker’s bastard progeny. In this shot the camera is static, framing Juno in a doorway as she walks out of the shadows. A skylight above illuminates her as she enters the room. and the sunlight crawls up her figure to reveal her face. It’s a great shot, and basically turns the rest of his cinematography inside-out, which is probably ironic. In this case all you can do is applaud, irony notwithstanding.
I said that Reitman was 50% of why I wound up loving this movie. The other 50% is J. Jonah Jameson. He’s basically the best thing going in movies today. He plays Juno’s dad as a disappointed, yet still completely loving father. The kind of dad you’d hope to be if you were a bad enough parent to wind up the granddad of what is sure to be a particularly unlovely offspring (blame Cera). Personally, were I in the same boat I’d probably ship my daughter off to a convent, or a Catholic boarding school for “fallen women,” or possibly some kind of a religious orphanage. Regardless of the final destination, you can be assured there would be nuns involved.
To be fair, that remaining 50% of the credit is shared among the entire supporting cast. Allison Janney as Juno’s stepmom is very strong here, and is given a great scene to shine in. Also strong are Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, as the recipients of the little bastard. I found both of their characters to be almost completely unlikeable, no small feat as Bateman and Garner are two of the more likeable C-list actors working today. Here they prove that they are good enough actors to play against type. Bateman’s character is a self-absorbed man-child with a distaste for responsibility and an apparent predilection for pedophilia. Garner is a selfish, brittle, obsessive woman who will probably raise any boy (whoops, was that a spoiler?) in her care to be a cross between Pete Wentz and Augustus Gloop. There is redemption to be had, but I won’t give any more away. Here’s a hint: they get divorced and Garner keeps the kid. Wait, was that too much?
If you notice, there’s not much left for the script in my almost-arbitrary split of credit. That’s because it mostly sucks. It’s pedantic, faux-hip, and retread. The vaunted dialog is often wooden, and by the end of the movie the cutesy hipsterisms have pretty much gone by the wayside. Obviously there are worse scripts out there, and this one works fine as a frame to hang the acting and direction off. But it does little to deserve the note (and Academy Award!) that it garnered.
Overall, though, this is a great movie. I went in fully expecting to hate it, much as I hate the ironic hipsters and mop-topped sk8r punks that seem to infest late-twenty-ought’s life. True, there are clearly moments that I do hate (Cera!). But it has a unique, Brick-like vibe that is infectious, it has expertly cinematic visual storytelling, and it has some truly great character acting. I suppose it’s possible that the very reason I wound up loving it as much as I did was because I went in desperately wanting to hate it. How terribly ironic.
Tags: 4-star, Academy Award, Allison Janney, Augustus Gloop, Brick, Diablo Cody, Ellen Page, Irony, J. Jonah Jameson, Jason Bateman, Jason Reitman, Jennifer Garner, Juno, little bastard, Michael Cera, Oswald Cobblepot, Pete Wentz, Previa, Roger Ebert