"One of the year's best" has been used a lot lately, but Juno is just that. The punky yet tender dramedy has it all, including arguably the most promising actress, writer and director.
Juno pulls no tricks, opening with teenage sex that leads to pregnancy, which would be a shocking climax for most movies. And Juno (Ellen Page) pulls no punches: The offbeat Minnesota teen and unexpectedly expectant mother simply cannot bite her acidic tongue. But as Juno comes to terms with her pregnancy, she softens. The terms of her pregnancythat is, after deciding against "procuring a hasty abortion"are that she will give her newborn to a baby-deprived married couple, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman), from upscale suburbia. And helping Juno come to said terms are her father (J.K. Simmons), stepmom (Allison Janney), best friend (Olivia Thirlby) and, from a distance, the dad-to-be, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), who himself doesn't look too far removed from infanthood. But Juno soon discovers that these nine months won't pass by without physical and emotional painpain for which her icy-exterior defense mechanism is no matchand that some grown-ups still want to be children.
Twenty-year-old Ellen Page (Hard Candy) is an age chameleon as the title character: Physically, she passes for Juno's age of 16 with ease, and whether Juno acts like a late-'70s/-punk-era throwback or a plain old 21st century teen, Page has no problem. But it's her range of emotion as Juno that is most impressive. Page first endears you with her ability to shoot off quick, rhythmic sarcasm at an astonishing rateshe's hilarious, if initially a tad sitcom-y; it's her vulnerability as the movie progresses, however, that is even more endearing and will move you beyond what you thought possible given the way Juno begins. Such an amazing yet believable transformation is what makes this possibly the year's best performance from an actress (even the Academy might be forced to agree). There's a major drop-off in screen time for the other actors, but not in quality. Neo-geek god Cera (Superbad) understands what makes comedy funny as well as anybody, but he throws the occasional, and totally effective, curveball at us with scenes of tenderness; Garner, in true "Who knew?" fashion, gives a superbly delicate, against-type performance; Bateman, reuniting with his Arrested Development son Cera and The Kingdom costar Garner, is typically flawless in his small but crucial role; and Simmons (HBO's Oz) and Janney are pleasant surprises, casting-wise, as Juno's free-spirited voices of reason.
Even if you knew nothing of Juno going in, it's easy to pick up on the fact that the movie's voice is unlike any you've heard in a whileit's totally fresh, in every sense of the word. That's because a brand new writer, Diablo Cody, and a new-ish director, Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking), are the brains behind the operation. Cody, whose past as a Minnesota stripper has been well documented/exploited, is most responsible for the greatness that is Juno. It's one of the best debut scripts in recent memory, fearless for refusing to conform where other first-timers err on the side of conservatism. Cody doesn't just elect not to go the conventional route; she gives it the finger! At the same time, Cody is unconcerned with maintaining the movie's sheer coolness, as evidenced by Juno's soft-around-the-edges second half. And then there's Reitman, who sits back and lets the writer work her untapped magicto a certain extent. Where the sophomore director shines is not just visually and audibly (the best soundtrack of the year features Moldy Peaches and lead singer Kimya Dawson quite prominently, as well as Belle and Sebastian, Cat Power and others), but tonally. He weaves Cody's superb script, which could've taken a completely different turn in the hands of another director, into a simultaneously upbeat and downbeat near masterpiece. Reitman also plays no small part in the incredible performances turned in by the cast.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.