Overview: A sharp-tongued, offbeat teenager deals with an unplanned pregnancy. Fox Searchlight; 2007; Rated PG-13; 96 Minutes.
WHO TALKS LIKE THIS?!: All other aspects of this movie labor under the weight of Diablo Cody’s unnatural and forced script. So up front apology (though it should be Diablo Cody’s apology to give), my review will contain the word “script” approximately ten times. The dialogue in Juno rushes itself impatiently from one quirky zinger to the next and, more often than not, the movie feels like a Goodwill sponsored read-through dress-rehearsal on a Red Bull rush. Talking speed does not equal wit and turn-of-phrase does not equal intellect. This is Cody’s miscalculation and it is poisonous to the trust of the viewer.
Performances: Well, Ellen Page nails the hands-on-hips pregnancy walk and does her best to smirk accordingly into the hyper-clever lines provided to her by the script. So, I guess that’s a success. Michael Cera really stretches himself here as Paulie Bleeker, a bumbling and awkward baby-daddy, comically lacking in charisma and social skills. Cera does not really perform life into the role. More likely, the role was written for his typecast personae—a boy unready for intercourse or even conversation, let alone fatherhood. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman provide the heavy lifting in the movie’s most dramatic side-plot as Mark and Vanessa Loring, the presumptive adopters of Juno’s unborn child. Bateman’s famed knack for heavy pauses and Garner’s screen-friendly cry face work relatively well here.
Soundtrack: It’s shit. It’s the worst. As if the movie’s regular talking wasn’t uncomfortable enough, the low-fi, minimalistic ukulele paired with the off-key wailing of Kimya Dawson are so exceptionally unpleasant that I considered muting the film and imposing a slapstick silent movie piano score. This may have been a marked improvement. Certainly it would have paired well with Juno’s waddle.
Not All Bad: The story works as an important conversation piece and handles a divisive topic rather comfortably. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Mac and Bren MacGuff (Juno’s father and step-mother) overcome the script limitations to provide touching moments of human connection. I’m thinking chiefly of Bren’s defense of her stepdaughter at the ultrasound appointment and Mac’s sincere struggle to provide kitchen-talk guidance to his pregnant teenage daughter. In these moments especially, I wished that this story and its characters could take off the restraints of the script. Script script script script script script.