Review: ‘Juno’

Either Ellen Paige can do no wrong, or she has the best agent on the planet. Possibly both.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a plain yet cerebral teen who thinks too much but really doesn’t get too excited about anything. Case in point is when she winds up pregnant after initiating sex with best male friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), then calmly decides what to do about it while everyone freaks out all around her. With the blessing of her mom (Allison Janney) and dad (J.K. Simmons), Juno finds a couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) willing to take the child off her hands. What follows is a story about how the decisions we make shape who we are and how silly looking those shorts are that high school track teams wear.

Juno is director Jason Reitman’s follow up to last year’s under-appreciated Thank You for Smoking. While both films are very different in style and subject, they both entertainingly trample subject matter that most folks find uncomfortable (and, well, both films feature a role with J.K. Simmons). Unlike a Kevin Smith movie where all the main characters talk as though they’re too smart for their own good, Ellen Page’s Juno sounds like an escapee from a Smith film sentenced to endure the real world as punishment for a previous life. The result is a smart little girl who hides bravely behind her intelligence and independence but isn’t too full of herself to believe that she’s better than everyone.

After winning the kind of acclaim actresses like Natalie Portman earned for The Professional (Leon), Ellen Page graduated from her Hard Candy fame for a brief stint stealing scenes in X-Men 3 before landing the lead for Juno. Carrying a film is no easy task, but Page makes it look easy even as she grows larger and larger to whispered ridicules of her classmates and even teachers. Her character seems just as at ease leading her friend Bleeker around be the nose as she does interacting with Garner and Bateman (who both turn in more dramatic performances than either of them regularly get to play).

For all the seriousness of the subject matter, the incidental comedy of the script is the film’s bread and butter, from Juno’s inability to be talked down to or intimidated by anyone to the literal running gag of the track team dashing through scenes. The film suggests that everything in life can be handled with a positive yet easy-going attitude, even if it doesn’t make the big decisions any easier. Juno is definitely one of the better films this year thanks to Page and Reitman, and it’ll be hard to wait and see what this actress and this director pull out of their hats next.

(a four skull recommendation out of four)

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