December 16, 2007


If you saw "Hard Candy,"
you'd better hope I'm 19.

Grade: B +
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, and J.K. Simmons
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Having already blazed a trail into news, politics, sports, and gossip, it was just a matter of time before the blogosphere established a beachhead in the world of cinema. Twenty-nine year-old Diablo Cody (birth name Brook Busey-Hunt) already had a loyal following for her Pussy Ranch weblog and 2006 memoir Candy Girl: A Year in The Life of an Unlikely Stripper before penning Juno, a coming-of-age dramedy about a teenager’s unplanned pregnancy. Cody’s whip-smart script not only tackles touchy life lessons without sanctimony but also finds hilarity as a so-called “teenage comedy” without the crutch of defiled desserts or an endless string of profane Apatow-isms.

Some may decry, with some justification, Cody’s rapid-fire, Gen-Y argot as too “Sundancy,” more concerned with movie-speak than people-speak. This critique, however, ignores that her prose is less concerned with concocting a template for verbal communication than establishing a breezy, vehicle for character definition and development.

Of course, it helps when that prose is being delivered by Ellen Page, who, at age 20, has already developed into the actress everyone once thought Christina Ricci would become (Ricci’s underappreciated turn in Black Snake Moan notwithstanding). Although Page’s breakout performance in 2005’s Hard Candy seemed too much like an acting school exercise, it still flashed the raw potential that blossoms here in the hands of Cody and director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking).

After seducing her high school class/band-mate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, again effectively channeling the same nebbish persona found in Superbad and Arrested Development), the gravid Juno (Page) must decide the fate of her unborn child. However, Juno is not a jeremiad against teenage pregnancy, pre-martial sex, or abortion, as some have suggested. Rather, as the self-styled “smartest person in the room,” Juno’s overarching journey is the realization of her own immaturity - her witty bluster is not a byproduct of self-esteem but rather an aegis shielding her lack of it.

Even cleverer is that the audience joins Juno in discovering the true nature of supporting characters who defy genre strictures by being, well, so normal. Juno’s Army-vet dad (J.K. Simmons) turns out a supportive father-figure who fancifully considers himself his daughter’s best friend. Similarly, instead of some shrewish hag, Juno’s stepmother (Allison Janney) leaps to her aid on several occasions. And, Paulie is not some callous dude who flees Juno’s side in her time of need, but instead an equally overwhelmed teenager who stands ready to provide as much love and understanding as he is capable and Juno is willing to receive.

More provocative still are Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), the childless couple Juno chooses to adopt her baby. Vanessa is initially cast as an uptight suburbanite, while Juno launches a platonic kinship with Mark, spending afternoons with him playing guitar, listening to Sonic Youth and The Melvins, and measuring the aesthetic merits of schlock horror flicks. However, Cody eventually flips our perceptions of each character – the Apostle Paul’s admonishment for men to “put away childish things” springs to mind – and further demonstrates Juno’s overarching theme that maturity is not merely a reluctant acceptance of responsibility, but instead the reclassification of cool.

Neil Morris

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