“Juno” is an Insightful & Nuanced Commentary on Teenage Life

Jason Reitman’s nuanced drama is an insightful commentary on modern teenager life, relationships, sex, and pregnancy, and features a terrific performance from Ellen Page as Juno.

It’s obvious why Juno has been lavished with praise from critics and filmgoers alike. There’s a brilliant central performance from Ellen Page (who, while looking the sixteen years of her character, is a relative veteran of film and television having being in the business for more than ten years when Juno started shooting), and a terrifically idiosyncratic and perceptive screenplay from debut writer Diablo Cody. Cody’s script is defiantly gendered but that’s part of its charm: an intelligent, witty film of high school pregnancy that seeks to draw light on an under-nourished and important issue from the female perspective. And it works particularly well because Page is so beautifully immersed in the character of Juno – the girl who gets pregnant and decides instead of abortion she will allow a couple who can’t have children adopt her baby.

juno, diablo cody, jason reitman

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And that’s the central conceit of the story. Juno is an atypical sixteen year old teenager with her own oddball characteristics. She’s trying to find her identity (but Cody’s script never resorts to the sort cliche that gives the character all the answers by the closing credits) and her best friend Bleeker (Michael Cera) is trying to find his own too. One evening they decide to have sex and Juno gets pregnant. At first believing abortion is the only option, she gives up on the idea when she realises she can help a couple who cannot have children get their wish. That brings her to the attention of Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman), a successful suburban couple who desperately want children but can’t get pregnant. During the pregnancy Juno gets closer to the couple on an individual basis. She sees in Vanessa a love of children and of life, something she herself could not comprehend when contemplating abortion; while Mark is the sort of man Juno can relate to on a personal level, each having a love of music, horror movies, and pop-culture. And inevitably, Juno begins to come round to the idea pregnancy isn’t the life-destroying burden she thought it was.

It’s apparent in the film that no matter how you govern teenage sex, relationships – whether they be between a pair of sixteen year olds losing their virginity or a thirty-something married couple – don’t always work the way you’d like them to. That, in itself, isn’t very profound, but Cody stylishly places it in the same bracket as the vilification of abortion and teenager sex and the inherent hypocrisy in conservative ideology on the subject. The film treats young people with a lot of respect, as it does the single parent, in that because an adult couple may have financial security, they may not have security in their relationship. Juno breaks down those sugar-coated ideals of the perfect American family and lays them bare for a young audience to interpret them as they see fit.

There’s a great dynamic between Juno and Mark in that they appear more compatible as a couple than he and Vanessa. They share the same taste in music and films, and Juno is fascinated by Mark’s job as a songwriter. It’s obvious that Mark sees in Juno the youthful exuberance he once had. He feels the baby may stifle his own creative desires, and the thought of impending responsibility frightens him. Indeed, it’s interesting how Cody sees the man as the most perturbed over the whole adoption, even more so than expectant mother Juno. Director Jason Reitman brilliantly displays Juno and Mark’s relationship, hinting at physical attraction, but above all showing the fragile nature of so-called love and marriage. In a way, it’s the insecurity of security.

But the film works so well because of the performance of Ellen Page. She’s irresistibly good – it’s the sort of standout performance akin to Jon Heder in Napoleon Dynamite that places a young actor on the proverbial map. Aside from both films being named after their teenager title characters, Juno shares a lot in common with Jared Hess’ high school nerd Napoleon. These characters are ostracized by their peers, and have become disillusioned with the monotony of their lives. And, both films celebrate the idea of the individual over socially acceptable clique. No less importantly, they both also feature fantastic alternative rock soundtracks. Page embodies Juno’s idiosyncrasies as if she had lived the character in a previous life – she’s tenacious, cool, smart and quick-thinking, but she’s also troubled, mindful of her own responsibility but proactive in her mistakes. Page has the look of a young actress but the quality and command of an experienced one.

Juno is a measured, thoughtful, and insightful commentary on modern teenager life, relationships, sex, and pregnancy. Diablo Cody’s brilliant script is funny and tragic, drawing on a very authentic representation of its characters with the sumptuous Juno at its centre. With Ellen Page’s commanding yet beautifully mannered performance, Juno is destined to become one of the most talked about teen comedy-dramas of the decade.

Review by Daniel Stephens

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Olivia Thirlby, Eileen Pedde, Rainn[sic] Wilson, Emily Perkins
Released: 2007 / Genre: Comedy-Drama / Country: USA/Canada / IMDB
Buy on DVD:
Amazon.co.uk: DVD | Blu-ray
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About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    As much as I hate to admit enjoying this film, I did enjoy this film. Not normally one for those teenage-comedy/drama things, Juno is actually a film with plenty of heart behind a delightful script, and you’re so utterly right about Ellen Page’s star-making performance here. She’s great. Pity she’s done nothing of any real worth since (her part in Inception wasn’t THAT great, really).

  2. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Cheers Rodney. She was in an interesting film called Hard Candy, which she made previous to Juno. Her performance is strong in a film that deals with some tough issues of pedophilia and features an excruciating castration sequence, yet ultimately the film lacks depth. Like you, I haven’t seen anything else of note featuring Ellen Page – I saw Smart People recently and hated it.

  3. Avatar
    Castor Reply

    Indeed, I didn’t what to expect seeing it in the movie theater but I thought it was remarkably funny and cute. Ellen Page gave an outstanding performance, creating this quirky, funny, original and beautiful character without actually having to look like a supermodel.

  4. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Castor: Good point. It’s obvious her talent for acting has got her roles rather than flaunting her looks. I’m not saying she’s on the Steve Buscemi/Paul Giamatti scale of talent over looks but Page has a certain tom boyish charm than many of her contemporaries don’t possess.

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    rtm Reply

    I still have my friend’s dvd on the counter waiting to be watched. Just a bit of a trivia, my husband used to work in the same office as Diablo Cody’s ex-husband at the time this movie was made. In fact, he knew about Page vying for the role of Juno when they were still casting this movie. He was constantly on the phone with Cody, so my hubby also knew Spielberg was exec producing Showtime’s United States of Tara as he was so excited that his then wife got a call from Spielberg!

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    Luke Reply

    Thank you so much for not harping on the script for being “overwritten!” Also, it’s great to see these “vintage” reviews amongst the heap of Black Swan and True Grit reviews that are a dime a dozen this month!

  7. Avatar
    Thomas Reply

    indeed, one of the very few comedies I enjoyed in the last couple of years, great acting in particular, and not just by Ellen Page. or maybe I only had a humorous phase? anyway. seems I liked it a lot at the time: http://thomas4cinema.wordpress.com/2008/01/27/superbad-greg-mottola-2007-and-juno-jason-reitman-2007/

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    CMrok93 Reply

    I didn’t mind the script as others did, I just wish I got more with this film. It seemed to come and go, pretty quickly, and didn’t really have a lasting impression on me. But still a good film, with hilarious performances.

  9. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    It got a lot of backlash shortly after theatres. I think now that it isn’t in the Oscar spotlight it will be judged more fairly.

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    Steve Aldersley Reply

    Good review. This is one of the few films that earns a perfect score from me. Juno`s relationship with Mark was interesting, as you mention, but I also love the performance of J. K. Simmons. How refreshing to have the parents be supportive (even though only one is a biological parent). Any film which includes Sonic Youth is already on the path to making me happy.

  11. Avatar
    Susu Reply

    Juno MacGuff is a sarcastic, cynical, tomboyish teen played by Ellen Page in a fantastic, perfectly tuned performance. After sort-of-spontaneous (but not really) sex with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera of ‘Superbad’), Juno receives an unwanted package–a pregnancy. Woops.

    Juno decides to give her baby to an affluent couple, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). All seems well at first, but it will be a bumpy road until birth.

    I can spend hours gushing about how terrific a movie ‘Juno’ is, but I’m not really the greatest writer on the planet, so I’ll just express the fact that ‘Juno’ has a strange effect on you. After seeing it, I almost felt as if I would walk out of the theater and see Juno MacGuff just standing there, as if she were a regular living, breathing teenager. That’s how good Page is. In fact, every single performance in the film is absolutely tremendous. I liked how Allison Janney’s stepmom character isn’t turned into a whiny she-demon like most formula stepmoms, instead, she’s far more friendlier (if a little unsure of Juno’s odd ways) than we would ever expect. And J.K. Simmons finally gets a role where he isn’t a total jerk; instead, he’s a sensitive father who truly cares for his wacky daughter.

    The soundtrack is awesome, I’ll be buying it as soon as possible. The wait for the DVD will be truly agonizing, but worth it in the end. We can see the chain reactions here when a group of truly ambitious individuals (such as Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, and Ellen Page) get together and make a movie such as this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.

    I give ‘Juno’ my highest recommendation possible.

    Sweeeeet, man.

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