I want to make an effort to see the Oscar contenders, at least the ones I think I can stomach – you know, the ones that aren’t too pretentious. That led me to Juno, the tale of a small-town teenage girl dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. I knew this wasn’t the typical teen pregnancy story, because the screenwriter used humor to tell the story rather than the more obvious serious approach. Juno is a cautionary tale, but it is more sweet than bitter.
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking), Juno plays out like real life. There is nothing glamorous about the title character (portrayed by newcomer Ellen Page), though she’s a cute kid. There’s nothing sexy about the manner in which she got pregnant, and there’s nothing cool about the pregnancy. Quite simply, it sucks. Juno has to deal with all the unfortunate byproducts of teen pregnancy, from disapproving stares to judgmental comments. Fortunately she has the support of her parents, best friend, and her pseudo-boyfriend and father of her unborn child. That role is played by Michael Cera (Superbad). I have to say that the casting is perfect, because the young couple really is quite sweet, and we can see that they are just babies themselves. Jennifer Garner (The Kingdom) and Jason Bateman (Smokin’ Aces) also gives strong performances as a young couple who are tied to Juno in a manner in which I won’t reveal, so as not to spoil it for you. I was particularly impressed with Garner, and I think she’s showing she’s the real deal and has successfully made the transition from small to big screen. Ellen Page made Juno a loveable girl you couldn’t help rooting for, and she conveyed the naiveté, frustration, and ultimate triumph of the character wonderfully. She was also funny as hell. This kid is up for an Oscar for the performance. She probably won’t win, but no one can say she doesn’t deserve it.
Juno is one of those small, sweet, endearing indie films that critics love. I think the most fitting term is “sleeper.” I can go with that, seeing as how the movie seems like a charming underdog. It’s nominated for 4 Oscars, and by the looks of it the budget was pretty small. It’s also a first-time effort for screenwriter Diablo Cody. Cody managed to craft a film that never came across as preachy or like a drag, but at the same time is not going to make teen girls want to run out and have a baby. I think it’s pretty hard to warn someone without lecturing them, and to accept something without condoning it. Cody managed to do this with teen pregnancy, a touchy subject given some of today’s headlines. Not bad for a first try, huh? Good luck to everyone associated with this movie, it was a joy to watch.