- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
very year, there’s one film that catches the eye of moviegoers young and old, and while many initially believed that film to be Adrienne Shelly's “Waitress,” there’s no denying that once you see “Juno" – the sophomore effort from "Thank You For Smoking" director Jason Reitman – you’ll quickly change your mind. Of course, both "Juno" and "Waitress" have something working against them: they’re both about unplanned pregnancies. They're also not the only movies to walk that particular tightrope this year, either. Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” and the musical drama “August Rush” are also about babies, adoption and the drama (or comedy) that comes with them, but thanks to a whip-smart script from rookie screenwriter Diablo Cody and yet another Oscar-caliber performance by Ellen Page, “Juno” easily rises above the competition as one of the best films of the year.
Page stars as the title character, a smart-ass 16-year-old girl who discovers that she’s pregnant after having sex with fellow virgin/best friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Unable to go through with the abortion, Juno decides to give the baby up for adoption through an ad in the local classifieds. The lucky couple is Mark and Vanessa (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner); yuppies from a neighboring city who want nothing more than to start a family. As the months progress, Juno begins to spend more time with couple (most likely to avoid all the finger pointing at school), but when she discovers that their marriage has hit a crossroads, Juno is left wondering whether every relationship is destined to eventually rot and fall apart.
Juno may sound more mature than she is, but she’s still a kid at heart. She talks on a plastic hamburger phone, eats licorice rope and guzzles Sunny D, and though making a decision like giving up a baby for adoption is incredibly responsible for any teenager, she still has so much to learn about life. Ellen Page is perfect as the quick-witted lead, and though she isn’t responsible for the words on the page (i.e. “You should've gone to China, you know, 'cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those t-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.”), her delivery only makes them that much funnier. Here’s hoping the young Canadian will actually be noticed at this year’s Academy Awards, because though her performance in last year’s “Hard Candy” could certainly be considered a breakout role, “Juno” will likely earn her the mainstream recognition she needs for a shot at taking home the gold.
The actress is also surrounded by one of the best ensemble casts of the year, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to get noticed. Michael Cera is criminally underused, but still effective as the unlikely father, Jennifer Garner is near-flawless as the controlling adoptive mother-to-be, and J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney steal almost every scene they’re in as Juno’s surprisingly supportive parents. “The Office” co-star Rainn Wilson also drops by for a short cameo as the man who sells Juno her pregnancy test. Still, despite all of these great performances under Jason Reitman’s direction, the real star of the film is former stripper-turned-blogger Diablo Cody, whose debut script features the freshest, quirkiest writing style since Quentin Tarantino first got into the game. A delicious mix of Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne, Cody’s darkly comical sense of humor has not only made the screenwriter one of the hottest names in Hollywood, but it also promises to offer up-and-coming talents like Page more strong female roles in the future.
Much like Reitman’s debut film, “Juno” has all the ingredients for success – a razor-sharp script, a likeable lead, and a strong supporting cast – only further proving that the young filmmaker has impeccable taste when choosing his projects. Unlike “Thank You For Smoking,” however, his latest feature has a grassroots marketing campaign that almost guarantees it’ll attain cult status by the end of the year. Plus, it always helps when people refer to your film as this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” and though you might not know about “Juno” yet, you will soon enough.
Two-Disc Special Edition DVD Review:
It’s not very often that a movie studio releases a DVD this jam-packed with extras, but if there’s any film deserving of such a treatment it’s “Juno.” Highlighted by a fun and witty commentary track with director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, the two-disc release also includes 20 minutes worthy of deleted/extended scenes, a five-minute gag reel, screen tests for eight different scenes, and much, much more. Granted, all of aforementioned extras are also available on the single-disc release, but the special edition is the way to go. Not only does it include a digital copy of the film (kudos to Fox for jumpstarting that tradition), but it also features short profiles on three of the film’s characters (“Way Beyond ‘Our’ Maturity Level”), Diablo Cody and her script (“Diablo Cody is Totally Boss”), and director Jason Reitman (“Jason Reitman for Shizz”), as well as a 13-minute discussion with Reitman and Cody on the making of the film (“Honest to Blog”). Oh yeah, and be sure to check out the brief “gag take” included on disc one. It features Reitman (along with co-star Rainn Wilson) in a hilarious faux-meltdown of Judd Apatow proportions.