Ellen Page ... Juno MacGuff
Michael Cera ... Paulie Bleeker
Jennifer Garner ... Vanessa Loring
Jason Bateman ... Mark Loring
Allison Janney ... Bren MacGuff
J.K. Simmons ... Mac MacGuff
Olivia Thirlby ... Leah
Rainn Wilson ... Rollo
Every year in December, major studios tend to release a lot of smaller "human" films that seem like a hollow attempt to garner Academy Award nominations come February. In some cases the movies themselves are actually quite good, but would have failed to attract any attention at any other time of the year. In the case of Juno, well it's a bit of a mixed bag to tell the truth. If Fox Searchlight Studios would have released the movie outside of the December awards attraction window, most of the focus probably would have been on the subject matter of the film, rather than Ellen Page's performance as the titular character. It's not that it's even that controversial of a topic these days, but the religious right more than likely would have had a field day with a movie about a 16-year-old girl that has premarital sex because she's bored and gets knocked up because of it and eventually decides to have the baby.
Directed by Jason Reitman and written by first-timer Diablo Cody, Juno is all about Juno MacGuff (Page) and the impact her decisions regarding her soon-to-be born child will have on her life and the lives of those around her. Juno's a quirky and somewhat crass girl, and there's no indication exactly how she came to be that way based on the level-headedness of her father Mac (Simmons) and her step-mother Bren (Janney). Her best friend Leah (Thirlby) is somewhat odd, but only if you find the idea of a high school girl who is horny for her teachers an odd thing. Nowadays, that sort of thing is such a regular occurence that Britney Spears' 16-year-old sister can get knocked up by a producer on her TV show and there isn't too much outrage. Well, aside from the religious right that I'm not a part of that is.
The comparison has to be made, so here it is: yes, the character of Juno is so reminiscent of Napoleon Dynamite that they might as well have titled the project Joséphine Dynamite. Juno and her family life aren't nearly as strange as the Dynamites were, but she's definitely not what anyone would really consider to be a "normal" teenage girl character in the movies. The structure of the film is slightly comparable to Napoleon Dynamite, but only real idiots would say that it's a rip-off of the movie. Sure Michael Cera's character of Paulie Bleeker is an awkward high schooler, but it's Michael Cera for god's sake. He essentially plays the same awkward character in every movie, just with subtle nuances added or diminished depending on the genre of the project.
It's funny that I watched Juno almost right after I watched Waitress, as the characters played by Ellen Page and Keri Russell in both films are startlingly similar. In my books, Russell deserves an Oscar win for her performance, and I think Page will probably have to settle for a nomination. A lot of critics have been comparing Juno to last year's Little Miss Sunshine as the feel-good movie of the year, and while I do see it, I don't necessarily agree with it. Sunshine was an ensemble cast performance extrordinaire, whereas Juno is pretty much a one-girl show. Page is awesome, but the overall feel of Juno is too uneven for it to be considered as an excellent movie.
The supporting cast of Juno is tremendous, especially with the way the characters of Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons' parents are written and the real way they're portrayed. Jennifer Garner is surprisingly top notch as well, same with the patented Michael Cera performance. Jason Bateman was probably the highlight of the movie for me, to the point where I actually sympathized with the decisions his character made and was kind of angry at the movie for almost manipulating me into viewing him as a villain-type. True, his actions aren't of the typical good guy variety, but I can honestly see where his character was coming from. In the end, Juno is a very good movie, and just slightly short of true greatness.
4 / 5
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