Wednesday, November 28, 2007


4 stars

Two stars are clearly born in Juno, the story of a subversive small town girl (named Juno) who gets pregnant and decides—much to everyone’s surprise (including her own)—to act as a surrogate mother to a Yuppie couple. The first is the young tomboyish actress Ellen Page (she had already caught my eye with last year’s indie Hard Candy), who not only wins us over with her snub-nosed beauty and droll way with a one-liner, but manages to bring a real emotional heft to her wiseacre young heroine. The other is first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody. I must confess that I was a bit put off by this extravagant nom de plume (her actual name is Brook Busey), but damned if she doesn’t live up to the legend in her own mind. Not only does Juno have a kind of language of its own—it’s teen speak, with a whole lot of cultural references, verbal shorthands, and ironic putdowns—but it manages to take every cliché of an “angry teen in a small town” story and turn it fabulously on its head. Whether Cody is intentionally trafficking in the flip side of clichés or whether that’s just the beautifully skewed way she views reality, I can’t say for sure, but it works famously.

Take, for example, Juno’s step mother (Allison Janney). At first we find out that she has a thing for dogs and likes to cross-stitch pictures of French bulldogs. Oh, we’ve seen this before: A homey, kitschy character who will be the source of ridicule. But no, in Cody’s script, the stepmother is salty and smart, with lots of fierce love for her weird step-daughter. Then there’s the couple that Juno is planning on giving her baby to. The husband (Jason Bateman) is an aging hipster with a music studio in the basement and a Sonic Youth obsession. The wife (Jennifer Garner) is a high strung over achiever, who frets that Juno will change her mind. You think you know what’s going to happen to this couple—and how Juno will relate to both characters—but you’ll be wrong.
Indeed, I loved all the characters in this movie—from Juno’s exasperated but adoring dad (J.K. Simmons, shining in an against-type role), to her hot-for-teacher best friend (Olivia Thirlby), to her unlikely impregnator (Michael Cera), a shy, knobby-kneed colt of a lad that Juno is wise enough to recognize as the coolest guy in school. I loved this hilarious and sneakily touching movie for what it is and, yes, for what it promises: I can’t wait to see what comes from these two stars next.

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