Juno (2007)

If you can get past the first half hour or so, when the dialogue is just too mannered, too studied, and too overwritten to be believed, and then get past the way that Juno MacGuff, a cute, quirky 16 year old who finds herself in the family way, speaks with the frankness of a four year old (often about the same bodily functions that so fascinate four year olds), then you might find *Juno* a funny and original comedy, despite its borderline After School Special plot. 

You might. What *Juno* has really got going for it are a handful of terrific performances by actors who manage to transcend the sitcom-my tendencies of the movie, to muscle through the cutesy-poo hipper-than-thou stuff to actually find the tender heart buried under all the punchlines. For starters, there's Ellen Page as Juno MacGuff, a mouthy teen, named for a Roman goddess, who relishes the role of outcast, but not as much as she thinks she does, and who finds out she's not as smart as she thinks she is either. Page, more than anyone in *Juno*, has to act around the sarcastic, too-clever words that come out of her mouth to create a believably human character, and she manages it, flipping quickly from childlike naivete to juvenile hubris to semi-maturity. It's a performance that really saves the movie from itself. Juno's dad and stepmom, respectively, are played by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, and you could hardly find a pair of actors who are better at playing funny-serious -- they both bring the right combination of warmth, weariness, tenderness, sass, and wisdom. 

So, Juno has impulsive sex with her dorky-but-sweet pal Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) and gets pregnant. After briefly entertaining the possibility of an abortion, Juno decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. Her parents are actively supportive, with reservations. Paulie is quietly supportive. Her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), a cheerleader, is cheerily supportive. The "desperately-seeking-spawn" adoptive couple she finds in the Penny Saver, Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) are thrilled. Then Juno is thrilled to discover that Mark is not as square and uptight as his tidy suburban home suggests -- he's actually a cool musician who watches gory horror movies and swaps CDs with Juno. Eventually, despite all the support and enthusiasm, Juno's perfect plan runs into complications, and she finds out she's not as mature and capable as she thinks she is.

As coming-of-age-through-crisis stories go, *Juno* does not break much new ground, although first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody brings a new voice and a post-feminist perspective to potentially melodramatic old-school material. There's evidence of emerging maturity in the writing of *Juno* -- as the movie progresses, the dialogue gets more believable and less forced and mannered, so there's a kind of coming-of-age for the screenwriter as well as the heroine going on. Director Jason Reitman (*Thank You For Smoking*) leans too heavily on quirky alt-folk songs to set the tone at the start of the movie, and doesn't do enough to reign in the off-putting, overly jokey dialogue. As the tone and mood of the movie change, becoming warmer and more intimate -- on a meta level, the director comes of age in *Juno* too -- it also becomes more believably real, so that it can all end on a note of refreshing honesty and unexpected emotional depth.