When I think of all the alleged comedies that are not funny, romcoms that lack charm and sincerity, dramas without drama or pathos, scripts lacking any integrity, wit or purpose, I despair. But then Juno, a movie which possesses all of the above qualities and plenty more besides, was manacled to the cute teen flick by its studio and distributor and thereby probably lost much of its potential audience as a result.
Yes, it is a movie featuring teenagers, including the wonderful Ellen Page (whose current spell in the headlines is sadly by virtue of coming out, which to my mind is the least newsworthy aspect of her professional life), along with a host of beautifully played adult roles – especially welcome is the needle sharp dry wit of JK Simmons as Mac MacGuff, dad of “Junebug,” as she is known.
Yes, Juno features much sassy teen-speak that sounds authentic without being either wooden or cheesy. Page, Cera and co quote it like, well, teenagers. One small example:
“Bleeker’s mother was possibly attractive once, but now she looks like a hobbit. You know, the fat one that was in the Goonies.”
Many scripts might have left it at the hobbit comparison. This I’ve demostrates its teen credentials by comparing with another movie. Cool, dude! There are also some cute animations and eccentric songs, which may or may not add to the charm, depending on your point of view, but they are distinctive and fit well with the mood – not something you could say about many.
But having said that, Juno is spiky (viz. the scene where the ultrasound technician gets a mouthful of tart responses from Juno and even more from her step-mom Bren – Alison Janney) without every once falling into the trap of wallowing in syrupy schmaltz – which may be the Canadian influence, counteracting the Hollywood execs. It is a bittersweet tale, and all the better for that, Juno’s relationship with the couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) who adopt the baby being a prime example. Bateman’s Mark, having found a common interest in music, flirts with the naive 16-year old Juno; Garner’s Vanessa becomes increasingly uptight and stressed. The result is the direct opposite of what Juno wants for her baby: the couple break up, but then maybe that would have happened anyway.
The difference between this and many other examples of the genre is that Juno is written, directed and acted with skill and fine judgement, not churned out by the yard in formulaic style. Jason Reitman, he of Up In The Air fame (the DVD cover of which states “by the director of Juno” without mentioning his name, which I consider bizarre) is a director of inventive talent, and his collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody (a marginal improvement on her real name, Brook Busey-Maurio) is a sure-fire winner.
So then – a quality product, one in a thousand, maybe more. All the more remarkable given that the subject matter – teenage pregnancy and adoption – could so easily have been dull as ditchwater, or have turned out as a place hanger for one political lobby or another. Instead this potential plotting minefield is handled lightly and with sensitivity; it covers the key issues but without the need for a checklist.
And just in case you missed it above, this movie is warm, funny and charming, and, perhaps contrary to initial expectations, ultimately a love story:
“As a boyfriend, Bleeker is boss. He is the macaroni to my cheese.”
And that metaphor sums up the movie – a little unconventional, but all the better for approaching familiar turf from a quirky angle.