From its trailer, JUNO seemed like another “quirky” movie peopled with characters who’d never do or say half the things they do or say, and with a lead character that spouts smart-alecky remarks that no one could possibly dream up that didn’t have a week to ponder each of them. In the first several scenes, it appeared to be exactly that. As if a sixteen-year-old would take a convenience store clerk into her confidence about being pregnant and trade one-liners with him instead of, say, freaking out!
Then, bit by bit, scene by scene, the story took surprising turns. The characters became very real. The film is about a high school girl who becomes pregnant and decides to proceed with the pregnancy and give up the child for adoption. The narrative, however, is mainly about the interaction between Juno and the people around her, particularly Paulie Bleeker, the mild-mannered track runner who is the baby’s father. What is especially refreshing about the relationship between Paulie and his baby-mama Juno is that they’re just friends. They had sex once. But the script doesn’t dwell on any “what are we gonna do!” madness.
Lead Ellen Page is getting the lion’s share of the praise by critics, but the rest of the ensemble give stronger performances than even she does. Michael Cera is astonishingly natural (and understatedly funny) as Paulie. And then there are Juno’s parents played by Allison Janney (“The West Wing”) and J. K. Simmons (Peter Parker’s editor at the newspaper in the SPIDERMAN movies)— who give stellar performances. And, finally there is Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, as the adoptive parents, who steal the show. It’s the Garner storyline in particular that, in the final analysis, won me over on JUNO. As with all great movies, it’s not just the beating of one single note: but an array of subplots and minor characters whose lives are affected by the lead character’s trajectory that make for an ideal movie experience. The film succeeds because we see how Juno is affecting so many people’s lives. And, in her separate relationships with the Garner and Bateman characters, we see an evolution in her understanding of human nature.
And again, how many movies about teen pregnancy aren’t about what a big, dumb mistake it is? JUNO is practically matter-of-fact about the pregnancy itself. Instead it’s about the world we live in and about how less screwed up Juno is in light of how more screwed up the adults are around her. And it’s about how everything can be okay, no matter how bleak the outlook.