Movie review by Greg Carlson
Jason Reitman’s film of Diablo Cody’s screenplay “Juno” can be a frustrating concoction that pits sweetness and warmth against manipulative calculation. It is already the hipster movie of the moment, destined to rotate through several cycles of praise and hatred before it develops a major following theatrically and then on home video. Essentially a “Knocked Up” for the current high school generation, “Juno” largely employs a predictable plot template to detail the comic misadventures and life lessons learned by the title character, a 16-year-old smart-mouth who always knows exactly what to say. As Juno, Ellen Page cements her reputation as a talent to watch, even if her character speaks more like a jaded grown-up than someone born in the 1990s.
“Juno” is the kind of movie that constructs a much cooler version of the world we actually inhabit; glittering D.I.Y. pop adorns the soundtrack and kids talk on vintage hamburger-shaped telephones. Juno’s accidental pregnancy can scarcely muster a raised eyebrow from her doting dad and step-mom, and sometime boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, terrific as ever) carries himself with such poise and maturity, you’ll wish you knew someone like him when you were in high school. Juno’s support system is so strong that if it weren’t for Ellen Page’s charm, the whole thing might collapse under the weight of its just-obscure-enough pop culture references.
By the time Juno has decided to give her baby up for adoption to a seemingly perfect yuppie couple, the story has settled in to a comfortable, if predictable, sequencing of events. In spite of the Oscar buzz already in the air for Cody’s script, the movie’s structure is formulaic. By far the film’s biggest liability is that everyone talks, thinks, and sounds like a single person. The cast works wonders in the attempt to differentiate, but the movie almost entirely avoids showing anyone who doesn’t agree with Juno’s flippant handling of every situation, or doesn’t let loose with a perfect rejoinder to every statement.
Only Jennifer Garner, who plays the woman desperate to be the mom to Juno’s baby, transcends the screenplay’s homogeneity. Amidst all the moments designed to tug at our heartstrings, Garner’s Vanessa Loring is the lone soul who earns it, giving her character a depth that initially seems hidden underneath the vaguely creepy façade of perfection she maintains with jingle composer husband Mark, a good but ultimately miscast Jason Bateman. Bateman is always a joy to watch, but he fails to make a convincing case that his emotionally stunted, selfish manchild would actually watch Herschell Gordon Lewis movies or listen to Sonic Youth (even if he does favor their cover of the Carpenters’ “Superstar” over “Daydream Nation” or “EVOL”).
Reitman, whose “Thank You for Smoking” skipped along at a brisk pace even while it tackled politically charged subject matter, just as deftly handles the action in “Juno.” Juno’s sarcastic quips pile up so quickly, fans will likely turn out multiple times, scanning for the ready-made catchphrases that bring to mind “Napoleon Dynamite,” another seemingly unassuming crowd pleaser that could run for miles. “Juno” works just as hard to win over its viewers, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 1/7/08.