Review: Juno Works Well Once You Get Acclimated

No movie has been more buzzed about this year than Juno, directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) and starring the ridiculous talented Ellen Page, who is probably best known as Kitty Pryde in the laughably bad X-Men: The Last Stand and the nymphette who threatened to castrate a pedophile in the downright frightening Hard Candy. The buzz has been especially traumatizing for me since I haven’t just been getting it from critics; from August until this very moment, every single person I know in the Industry has been raving about how it’s the best script they’ve read in years. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter, is a genius at dialogue, I’ve been told. You should be writing scripts like this, Cole, others said. Cody, according to the press, was some sort of Second Coming; her buzz was like what Quentin Tarantino garnered after Reservoir Dogs, but estrogen-soaked instead of blood-spattered. Even worse, I share friends with the filmmakers and even had drinks with Cody a month or two back, during which I found her to be absolutely refreshing compared to what I often encounter in Hollyweird; she’s a typical Midwestern girl, though much has been made about her unconventional career path (college grad, stripper, blogger, journalist, novelist, and, deep breath, now screenwriter). The result of her here-and-there life is Juno, a movie I was absolutely terrified I would hate considering, you know, all the aforementioned buzz.

And you know what? I did hate it, for about the first five minutes. Well, hate is the wrong word. I just wasn’t thrilled. In Juno, Page plays sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff who, after having sex for the first time, discovers she’s pregnant, but Cody’s dialogue is so quick-witted, so preciously unique that it took me those first five minutes to acclimate myself to the world she’d created for her characters. In it, a store clerk saying, “That ain't no etch-a-sketch. That's one doodle that can't be un-did, home skillet,” of Juno’s pregnancy sounds absolutely normal. By the end of the movie, you actually find yourself wanting to talk like these people – much like you do after sitting through a Tarantino movie.

Before Juno gets around to telling her father and step-mother about the bastard bun in her oven, she decides against abortion in favor of an adoption ad she finds in a Penny Saver – “Desperately Seeking Spawn,” her friend jokes. The parents the mom-to-be chooses, almost on a whim, are Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner), but that marriage shows flaws from the get-go; Mark, for one, hasn’t let go of his rock-and-roll dreams and, for two, probably has a thing for Juno (though it’s probably more the escape the potential Lolita presents). But Juno, the child of a divorce, just wants to believe that a marriage and, by extension, love can work. She’s young, directionless, and the adult world is proving even more confusing than her teenaged one. After all, she’s also in maybe-love with Bleeker (Michael Cera), the dorky father of her child; why even bother falling in real-love if there’s no hope?

In the end, Juno doesn’t aspire to change lives or make declarative statements about touchy subjects like abortion, teen pregnancy, or the accompanying politics, which makes it unique considering the awards it’s won and will probably continue to win. It’s about growing up, and doing it a lot more authentically than anything else we’ve seen onscreen in quite some time. Cody’s quirky dialogue is the key to getting there, though, which is probably why – pardon, I’m adding to the buzz here – she’ll likely earn a Best Original Screenplay nod when the Academy Award nominations are announced in January. Come March, I’m hoping to see her onstage accepting a statue, too.

Grade: A-

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