“Juno” is a comedy about teenagers (among other things), but it’s not a “teen comedy.” There’s no hierarchy of geeks and snoots and clueless ‘rents, no arsenal of desperate sex jokes. You come away from the film feeling grateful and happy — and scrambling for superlatives to shower on that subversive snugglebug Ellen Page, who gives a hilarious, bust-out performance in the title role.
Page plays Juno MacGuff, a 16-year-old suburban nonconformist. One day she takes the first-time-sex plunge with her pal Paulie Bleeker (the eloquently impassive Michael Cera) and, as bad luck would have it, becomes pregnant. Her repairman dad (J.K. Simmons) and stepmom Bren (Allison Janney) are of course taken aback when she haltingly breaks the news (“I was hoping she was expelled, or into hard drugs,” says Bren), but they quickly go into total-support mode. A visit to an abortion clinic proves off-putting (handing her a blank form, the receptionist says, “We need to know about every score and every sore”). So Juno decides to have the baby and then give it up for adoption, maybe to “a woman with a bum ovary, or a couple of nice lesbos.”
She eventually connects with a childless couple named Mark and Vanessa Loring, and if this were a standard teen comedy, they would surely be the objects of merciless potshotting. Their home is huge, their taste in clothes and furnishings leans heavily toward beige, and they drink things like ginseng coolers. But the movie doesn’t blow these two off as soulless yuppies. Instead, it shows us that Mark (Jason Bateman), a failed rock musician now crowding 40, may make a plush living scoring commercials but still feels like a sell-out. And Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a good-hearted career woman longing for maternal fulfillment, is tired of biding her time till he outgrows his youthful rock-star fantasy. (“If I have to wait for you to be Kurt Cobain,” she tells him, “I’m never gonna be a mother.”)
Juno bonds with both of them, keeping Vanessa updated with ultrasound photos and swapping music with Mark. (He thinks the greatest record ever made is Sonic Youth’s version of “Superstar”; she worships at the shrine of Iggy Pop.) Then, as Juno’s belly blimps out (“I’m a planet!”), something unexpected happens. And then something else. And then romance blooms in a not-entirely-predictable quarter. The movie’s final shot is the sweetest thing I’ve seen since “Little Miss Sunshine.”
First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody — cult blogstress, fledgling memoirist and one-time stripper — is a sensationally funny woman. True, the first part of the movie, in which priceless retorts erupt like an explosion in a wisecrack factory, feels a little self-consciously clever. But the lines are so sharp, there’s no basis for complaint. There’s also an odd, slightly creepy overtone to one of the relationships in the film. But as the story deepens — and at the same time grows funnier — you know Cody can write her own ticket to whatever Hollywood destination she may have in mind next.
Director Jason Reitman knows just what to do with this material — he’s given the picture a fresh, cheery visual style, and he never milks the laughs (there are so many of them, there’d really be no time). The supporting actors are first-rate, too, especially Bateman as a wilting hunk beset by midlife confusion, and the invaluable Simmons (“Daily Bugle” editor J. Jonah Jameson in the “Spider-Man” movies), hereby nominated for big-screen dad of the year. Also notable is the movie’s soundtrack, which may be the best since “Garden State”: a procession of just-right songs by Kimya Dawson, Cat Power, Buddy Holly, and Belle and Sebastian, among others. (It’s out now on CD, and so worth getting.)
But the unsurpassable star of the show is Ellen Page, who was already amazing two years ago in “Hard Candy.” Now 20 years old, she could still pass for 12, and her baby-faced expertise remains startling. Traipsing through the movie in her ragamuffin duds, preceded everywhere by a huge prosthetic belly and snapping out killer quips like gum bubbles, she turns what might have been a really good comedy into a great one. In fact, a classic.
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