A COMEDY ABOUT GROWING UP… AND THE BUMPS ALONG THE WAY.
Not many strippers start a blog where they write about their profession. Not many strippers are approached by a film producer offering her a book deal for a memoir. Not many strippers begin their new careers as screenwriters by first putting together a draft of another story, just to show that she really can write, and then end up having that draft filmed – and winning an Oscar for it. But that’s Diablo Cody for you. This background story was too good for the Academy not to reward; she did an amazing job, but Cody’s script isn’t really the best part of the film.
It started with a chair, we’re told. Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a 16-year-old Minnesotan who has sex in that famed chair with Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), one of her closest friends. When she realizes that she’s pregnant, Juno contemplates whether to have an abortion or not. She decides to have the baby, but put it up for adoption. Juno tells her baffled parents (they didn’t think little Paulie had it in him) and goes on to find the perfect couple. Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman) have safe, successful careers and a nice house, but no children. They, Juno and her father Mac (J.K. Simmons) agree to a closed adoption.
As time passes, Juno tries to understand her situation and what role Paulie should play in her life; she also strikes up an unusual friendship with Mark whom she turns out to have much in common with.
Politics has no place here
Poor Juno. She tries hard to take charge of her life again after the incident that made her lose control; it comes as no surprise that her attempts to put everything in neat little boxes aren’t entirely successful. Cody has created a character who talks and occasionally behaves in ways no other teenager does; she’s full of witty, adult remarks and her reaction to the pregnancy is calm and fairly calculated. This is the contrived part of the film and it makes us not really believe in Juno… but as the story progresses we realize from some of her relationships that only a teenager would be so clueless. Her friendship with Mark is particularly telling; he’s clearly not ready for the grand schemes his wife is preparing and Juno would see this if she were older.
The film was hailed and booed by both pro-choice and pro-life groups who struggled with their own interpretations of the film; there’s an early sequence where Juno gets a very negative view of a family clinic and her decision to let a childless woman have her baby turns out to be a good choice in the end. But taking this individual experience and labeling the whole film as aggressively pro-life is dishonest (not least since Cody and Page both are pro-choice); politics has no place here. Page got her breakthrough as quirky Juno; Cera is also good as the sweet, insecure Paulie and so are Bateman and Garner as the Lorings (although their characters may be a bit broadly sketched).
Director Jason Reitman has wisely made this film all about Juno. We see things from her perspective and the popular soundtrack is full of songs that she would listen to (according to Page). The film is about her choice – and plays on her terms.
Juno 2007-U.S. 96 min. Color. Produced by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Mason Novick, Russell Smith. Directed by Jason Reitman. Screenplay: Diablo Cody. Cast: Ellen Page (Juno MacGuff), Michael Cera (Paulie Bleeker), Jennifer Garner (Vanessa Loring), Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons… Rainn Wilson.
Oscar: Best Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay.
Last word: “[Reitman’s] really elevated the material. I know a lot of people feel it was a strong script, which is a great compliment and I’m really happy about that. But to me, Jason just came in and took the script and he really built on the material. Jason and I, we come from very different spaces, I tend to be the one who’s, you know, making the joke about the condom making the guy’s dick smell like pie. I tend to be a little more … well, and Jason is a trained filmmaker, and some of his points of reference are more impressive than mine. Well, that’s not really what I mean. What I mean is that’s good that he and I are different and that we balance each other well.” (Cody, Moviefone)