‘Juno’: a 2007 indie queen

Andrew Gaug


Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman

Directed by Jason Reitman

Distributed by Fox Searchlight

Rated PG-13 Runtime 92 mins.

Stater rating (out of five): ***

Every year has its small indie movie surprise. 2006 had Little Miss Sunshine. 2005 had Crash. 2004 had Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State, and the list goes on.

Don’t be surprised in a year or two if Juno is mentioned in the same category for 2007.

Lead by another great nuanced performance by X-Men: The Last Stand and Hard Candy star Ellen Page, Juno is a surprisingly light comedy about teenage pregnancy and the responsibilities of growing up during the nine months in-between.

Page plays Juno, a quirky sixteen-year-old girl who gets pregnant after a one-night stand with her friend/bandmate Paulie Bleeker (played with an understated humor by Superbad’s Michael Cera). As opposed to the other pregnancy comedy released this year, Knocked Up, Juno decides there’s no way she’s mature enough to mother a child and gives it up for adoption.

The first twenty minutes of the movie are surprisingly the worst part. All of the characters, including a cameo by “The Office’s” Rainn Wilson, feel like their dialogue was taken from an unrealistic dialogue handbook.

But as the characters, and Page’s performance, take shape, the movie does too.

Throughout the film, Page does a remarkable job transforming Juno from a bratty teenager to a scared young adult afraid of the responsibilities she’s been given. The same goes for Jennifer Garner as a potential adoptive mother who is part yuppie and part nervous mother-to-be.

Written by stripper/blogger-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody, Juno could have easily become another self-indulgent independent comedy. It has all of the quirks of a Napoleon Dynamite or Little Miss Sunshine-type film such as obscure soundtrack, characters that love odd movies and music and dialogue that ventures into “Dawson’s Creek” territory in terms of absurdity. A subplot involving “Arrested Development’s” Jason Bateman as the soon-to-adoptive father is also out-of-place and, at one point, too creepy for the tone of the movie.

But a supporting cast including Spider-Man’s J.K. Simmons and Hairspray’s Allison Janey add such warmth and realism to it that its pretentious quirks can be ignored.

Much like Juno the character, the movie doesn’t quite decide on what it wants to be. An incredibly sweet, yet borderline cheesy ending suggests it wants to be another Garden State, yet the performances and humor show a movie with an incredible sense of realism, void of the usual romantic-comedy clichés.

The movie has so much sweetness and heart that has been lacking in the sequel-infested 2007 that it’s not tough to look beyond its faults and appreciate a movie that has more than just its heart in the right place.

Contact all correspondent Andrew Gaug at [email protected].