Directed by Jason Reitman. Screenplay by Diablo Cody. Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, and Jennifer Garner.
Finally, a Best Picture nominee in which no one gets shot, there is no blood, and no one does anything reprehensible. Instead we have the story of Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page), an offbeat teenager who finds herself pregnant after her first and only sexual experience-an encounter that's more experiment than romance with her best buddy, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She plans for an abortion but can't go through with it, so she and her friend Leah (Olivia Thurlby) find an adoptive couple in the local PennySaver. By the time Juno breaks the news to her father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney), she's got it all worked out. The well-off young couple she chooses are the Lorings, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a tightly wound woman eager to be a mother, and her more laid-back composer husband Mark (Jason Bateman), who shares Juno's interests in music and slasher movies.
It's a sweet, charming little film with sparkling dialogue and wonderful actors. I wish I liked it more. Possibly I would have had I not been seeing it as an already-announced Best Picture nominee. My problem is not that Juno lacks the breadth and scope of the other nominees-this is no big-budget blockbuster but a quirky little film. I love quirky little films (think Little Miss Sunshine) and see no reason why a great one couldn't and shouldn't win Best Picture. My problem is that I didn't feel that its somewhat cartoon-like feel really worked. And sure, that effect is intentional; that's obvious from the start given the movie's hand-drawn opening sequences and the apt if annoying folksy music that accompanies them.
While the character of Juno and the young actress who plays her are irresistible, the situation in which she finds herself and the matter-of-fact way she and the other people in her life handle don't really ring true. There's more sardonic humor than angst involved in Juno's pregnancy, and no one, including Juno herself, seems to think very much or very deeply about the idea of bringing a baby into the world, let alone giving it up. Again, this is intentional. This is a world where nearly everyone-from the clerk at the convenience store to Juno's dizzy friend Leah to her dog-obsessed stepmother (and with the possible exception of the uptight and earnest Vanessa)-constantly delivers the kind of lines most of us only think of the next morning. Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed all the witty dialogue quite a lot, and especially enjoyed the vision of a world in which the quirky will inherit the earth, even in high school. (This is a universe where a super-geeky boy with a pronounced overbite has a hot girlfriend who's convinced he's cheating on her. Gotta love it.) It's just that sometimes it's all a bit much. At one point, Juno tells Mark, who has made her a CD of his favorite '70s music, "Once you've listened to Iggy Pop, everything else just feels too precious." And that's it: it's too precious. In a movie where deep feelings are mostly hidden under layers of sardonic wit, the overall effect ends up being cloying. Now there's some irony for you. So let's forget about the Best Picture stuff and enjoy Juno on its own terms. It's a little gem of a movie and a lot of fun to watch, even if it doesn't quite succeed.
For all Juno's charm, I think that as far as Oscar is concerned, it's an honor just to be nominated.