SHE HUFFS. SHE PUFFS. SHE’S JUNO MACGUFF.
Ellen Page is Juno MacGuff, the smart-aleck teen whose cinematic story begins with a chair. Yes, a chair. That most magnificent piece of furniture is where she has done the deed, which leads to the pee-stick-confirming news that, holy cow, she’s pregnant. And who – uhm – rocked that chair with her? Why, it’s none other than the adorkable Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera).
“Paulie Bleeker?” Dad MacGuff (J.K. Simmons) reacts with puzzlement. “I didn’t think he had in him.” But, it’s true. The soft-spoken and lanky-legged runner had a fast swimmer in him. Anyway, what’s done is done. The girl is knocked up and inside of her is a fingernail-growing fetus. As for plans, Juno aborts abortion and adopts, that’s right, adoption. She intends to give up Juno Junior to Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner), the baby-starved couple who lives in a well-to-do suburban house. In return, the Lorings are willing to pay for Juno’s medical expenses. Sounds like a nice dealio, but will everyone follow through once the munchkin pops out?
Following “Juno” is an enjoyable hoot. Right from the start, it is obvious you’re watching a special film. Just take this banter between Juno and the store cashier Rollo (The Office’s Rainn Wilson) in the film’s early scene:
Rollo: So what’s the prognosis, Fertile Myrtle? Minus or plus?
Juno MacGuff: I don’t know. It’s not seasoned yet.
Juno MacGuff: I’ll take some of these. Nope… There it is. The little pink plus sign is so unholy.
[shakes pregnancy tester]
Rollo: That ain’t no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, homeskillet.
Well, homeskillet, as unrealistic as these characters talk, “Juno” scores giga-points for its invigorating film dialogue. Dare I say it that it is the most refreshing thing I’ve heard since “Pulp Fiction.” Screenwriter Diablo Cody is this decade’s Tarantino. Her scintillating language is so distinct that pretty soon countless imitators will spew out Cody-esque chit-chat. Yes, indeed-y, I’m already one of them.
In the titular role, Ellen Page delivers her quotable lines with deadpan charisma. The baby-faced actress is a bundle of joy, a burst of life. She’s a natural conversationalist. I could not get tired hearing Juno talk in this movie. She has colorful choice of words, unabashed and sneaky humor, and a spunky surge of wit. She’s so smart that anyone who has half her wit could not be could be called a halfwit. And yet, despite her lightning-bolt mouth, Juno is not all about talk. Pay attention to few instances when Juno is at loss for words. Page has stirring ways of revealing the tough-girl heroine to be vulnerable and scared as any mother teen can be.
Supporting Ms. Page is one of the year’s strongest casts. Kudos to the casting directors for their shrewd selections. The actors are just right, and yet, none of them are in typecast roles. How refreshing! Michael Cera, the young thespian of awkward humor, can be gracefully dramatic. Action TV star Jennifer Garner kicks butt in channeling a maternal instinct. And J.K. Simmons is a blast as Juno’s no-nonsense and sensible dad. Jason Bateman and Allison Janney are also fantastic in their own shining moments. By the time the end credits strum and roll, it is amazing how the characters come across as clear and human.
As much as I’m bowled over by the stylized dialogue and acting, it is the story that ultimately won me over. It is incredibly insightful towards the end. “Juno” succeeds in pulling off a high-caliber trick: it unfolds in a reasonable manner without being predictable. There is one clear-throating storyline that develops in the movie. And yet, the way it is handled, the way it turns out, is surprisingly astute and perceptive. You step back from the overall picture and realize, aha, it makes sense. Am I making sense? No? Maybe you should see the movie and then, maybe I’d shut my gob.
Anyho, “Juno” is a special motion picture. When I came out of the theater, I wondered if I had seen a classic-to-be. My answer is still a heavenly “Hell, yeah!” However, I’m wondering. Honest to goodness wondering as to how can that be? Great films are usually made by pros, experts with years or even decades of experience under their belt. It’s Cody’s screenplay debut. It’s sophomore tries for director Jason Reitman (after “Thank You for Smoking”) and leading actress Page (after “Hard Candy”). Baby “Juno” is practically conceived by babies, well apparently, baby geniuses with Oscar nominations. Its birth is nothing short of a miracle.
Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, and J.K. Simmons
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language