Juno movie poster

A slow starter. In the title role of a pregnant Minnesota high-schooler (named after the Roman goddess of marriage, fidelity, fertility), the dry flat sardonic line-delivery of Ellen Page, the angelic avenger of Hard Candy, is not easy to warm up to, no matter how much we might try to see it as an adolescent defense mechanism, or how much as humble emulation of Janeane Garofalo. And the garishly colorful dialogue, from first-time scripter and former stripper Diablo Cody, often tends to push too hard ("Being pregnant makes me pee like Seabiscuit"). The heroine, interested in simply finding a good home for the baby, not in making a profit off it, finds a possible taker in the weekly PennySaver ("next to the exotic birds"), a neat-freaky suburban couple in the gated confines of Glacial Valley Estates. It's there that things really begin to get interesting. Our initial arrival at the housing development is alone sufficient to convince us of Jason Reitman's directorial bona fides: a series of static shots of antiseptic House Beautiful after House Beautiful as the car passes across the screen, left to right, in front of each. And the prospective mother, Jennifer Garner (her piano-wire tautness put to good use), turns out to be the neater of the pair, someone who will studiously ponder "custard" versus "cheesecake" as the color for baby's room, while the prospective father, Jason Bateman, proves to be the freakier, a stay-at-home composer of advertising ditties and a frustrated rock-and-roller. A curious, potentially dangerous after-school relationship blossoms between him and the heroine: he may be a commercial sell-out as a composer, but he's a person who can talk music to a teenager, and he demonstrates "decent taste in slasher movies" (e.g., Herschell Gordon Lewis's The Wizard of Gore, another impediment to our warming up to the heroine). Over time, the film builds, and it does so with proficiency, patience, and foresight. If the heroine is never wholly embraceable, the surrounding characters go far to compensate, specifically J.K. Simmons as her droll laconic dad, Allison Janney as her worldly-wise, even-keeled mom, and above all, Michael Cera as her shunted-aside, unassertive, but ever-faithful boyfriend, the baby's biological father, and a cooler dude than you'd ever guess from his track-team togs. And if the dialogue is unabatingly overcolored, at least the hues are spread around democratically. 2007.

Duncan Shepherd

This movie is not currently in theaters.


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