Call it the female perspective on Knocked Up, or the first real movie from the blog generation. Hell, if you need to, call it this year's Little Miss Sunshine or Napoleon Dynamite, though it's much better than those films. Yes, Juno, the little teen-pregnancy movie that could, the first script from blogger/stripper/screenwriter Diablo Cody, does live up to its hype. As smart as it is snarky, it manages to deliver that cookies-just-out-of-the-oven feeling despite the serious nature of its subject matter. It's a terrific movie, leaving audiences with the same warmth generated by the aforementioned pictures but backed up by greater substance and more genuine characters.
The set-up is simple: Ellen Page is Juno MacGuff, the strange girl from school who finds herself impregnated after a one-night nothing-on-TV stand with her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). One trip to the abortion clinic later, Juno decides she's going to have the baby and give it up for adoption. She chooses Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) to be the parents—a yuppie couple she found in the Penny Saver—and then goes through with the pregnancy and all the stigma that an unwed teen mother can go through on a high school campus. Of course, there are complications along the way, but they all deal with the personal, not the pregnant. As her due date draws nearer, Mark and Vanessa have to face up to impending parenthood, and Juno needs to sort out what, exactly, she wants from Paulie.
Diablo Cody's screenplay has garnered plenty of attention, primarily for its Generation Right Now sensibility. Still, some people will have trouble connecting to the dialogue, which scores high on the Quirkometer. No, Juno doesn't talk like real people, but she does talk quite a bit like that strange high-school chick you used to see across the quad.
More to the point, what makes Cody's screenplay work isn't the dialogue; it's her characters and what she has them go through.
Juno works not just because Page is so idiosyncratic, fresh and appealing, but also because Garner's character faces so much masked pain at being unable to conceive a child, because Bateman's character is truly rejuveniled, because Juno's stepmother Bren (Allison Janney) sticks up for her when she needs it and because her dad, Mac (J.K. Simmons), gets on board with Juno's pregnancy, doing whatever needs to be done to help carry it through. And it works especially because of Cera, who has truly stepped up in the post-Arrested Development arena with Superbad and now Juno, playing poor, tragic Paulie, who loses one of his best friends in a night of sex and who is effectively shut out of the pregnancy by Juno's anger and her hormones.
At the same time, it really all does come down to Juno. She is wonderfully weird. She's already an outsider of sorts, primarily by choice, and being pregnant just seals the deal. Page, who was so great in last year's Hard Candy, handles Cody's words like a champ. One is tempted to say that Juno the movie and Juno the character are future cult classics, but this story is accessible to folks older than the tween set. Imagine that—a teen-pregnancy movie for grown-ups. Juno probably won't change your life, but it'll probably make your day.