Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)
Juno MacGuff (charmingly played by Ellen Page) is a sixteen year old high school junior who finds herself pregnant weeks after a make-out with her best bud Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) turned into teenage irresponsible late-night lovemaking. She's a peculiar teen, vocal about what she thinks and what she likes, which includes Dario Argento and a few rock bands from years before she was born. Her mouth spews sarcasm with eloquent flair, usually backed up with pop culture references. She operates with graceless theatricality as when she delivers the news of her pregnancy to Bleeker, she musters props which include a sofa chair to sit on and a wooden pipe to chew on down the boy's front lawn to either enunciate the gravity of her situation to the seemingly uncaring soon-to-be father or to mask her own incapability to face her present reality. She is representative of the youth that prides itself of a maturity it barely has a grip of, confusing wisdom with verbal wit and independence with adventurism.
Her first plan of action is to have the baby terminated by calling a clinic to procure a "hasty abortion," but as she's about to enter the clinic, a pro-life classmate of hers details how the baby inside of her has fingernails, which oddly represents for her the totality of humanity. Her change of heart erupts when an orchestra of fingernails tugging on what's left of her conscience envelopes her completely. She foregos abortion and instead finds picture-perfect yet barren couple Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) Loring in the ads section of the Pennysaver to adopt her baby.
The film then whimsically struggles to find relevance in the scenario that our beloved wisecracking soon-to-be mom finds herself in. Yet that scenario is just a bit too genial, a tad too friendly, to the point wherein you wonder where Juno gets all the pent-up teenage angst from, undoubtedly not from her father (J. K. Simmons), who showers her with love despite her shortcomings, or her stepmother (Allison Janney), who likewise treats her with equal parts restraint and dignity, or the stereotyped schoolmates which include the hot dumb cheerleader (Olivia Thirlby) who happens to like her enough to be her best friend despite the extrinsic weirdness and the bullyish jock who she fancies has a secret crush on her. Sure, she gets disgusted stares from the woman behind the desk or the kids from school the moment she balloons into full maternity, but the pregnancy is so underwritten, so slightly developed, that you feel like writer Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman are dodging important issues. At least in Judd Apatow's uneven Knocked Up (2007), we get a glimpse, although punctuated, of the risks of a decision to go pro-life or in Cristian Mungiu's masterful 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (2007), we are allowed a full glance of the corrupting effects of abortion, as seen through the eyes not of the mother-to-be but through the assisting best friend. Juno, on the other hand, is either brazenly politically ignorant or dangerously romanticizing teenage pregnancy.
However, for all the film's optimism and amiability, there are only a few moments that feel real in this fantasized take on teenage pregnancy. There's that scene in the mall where Juno suddenly bumps into Vanessa. Juno allows Vanessa to talk to the baby, and the latter does so, quite emotionally and without the restraints that usually inhabit her prim and proper posture, until she feels the baby react to her declarations of maternal readiness. There's also Mark's sudden escape from the confines of his marital prison brought about by Juno's supposed free-spiritedness. That discovery of a kindred soul outside their posh suburban neighborhood urges him to soul search, which would lead to a very skewed resolution, probably unfairly designating to him the title of confused villain in a generally kindhearted comedy.
These subplots, moments, and rare instances wherein the heavyhandedly crafted dialogue rings true are sprinkled so sparingly throughout the film that fancies itself hip and cool through the idiosyncratic visual cues (the rotoscoped opening credits, the running joke of a team of marathoners jogging through the neighborhood with their golden short shorts, and the bohemian-inspired fashion of the beloved teen preggie), the bubbly folk songs that open the season-inspired chapters, and the one-dimensional tone of world-wary sophistication that the screenplay generously gives all its characters, from the totem pole of witty retorts Juno to the very annoyed clerk at the local convenience store. It is hardly innovative, blatantly uneven with overwritten dialogues and underwritten themes.
That said, Juno is nothing more than a sweet little movie. Sweet of course is not the greatest of compliments especially to a movie that has been accoladed with several nominations and awards from Hollywood's countless self-congratulating guilds, the biggest of which is the Academy. Sweet in my vocabulary usually means something ultimately harmless, an undaunting confection that makes you feel elated a few minutes after consumption but would eventually fade into obscurity.