Let's face it -- teen pregnancy is an ongoing problem, and is not something admirable or funny. But I have to admit, the way you handle it can be.
That seems to be the goal of "Juno," a relentlessly quirky, cracking-wise little comedy about a girl who makes a dumb mistake, and the smart decisions she has to make after that. While it initially seems rather precious, the Wes Andersonesque scriptings hide a bittersweet, warm little story about responsibility and love.
After a lot of Sunny D and three pregnancy tests, Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) comes to the inevitable conclusion: she's pregnant by her friend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera).
Because she "heard in health class that pregnancy often results in an infant," Juno initially goes in for an abortion, but ends up running out of the clinic. Instead, she's going to have the baby and give it to someone who wants one, but can't have it. So she reluctantly fesses up to her parents, and starts scouting ads for suitably (if unedgy) parents for her baby -- the wealthy Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner).
Mark and Juno form a bond over their shared tastes, but she starts to suspect that not all is well in Yuppieland -- especially when Mark decides to break up with Vanessa, because fatherhood would force him to be a grown-up, not a rock god. As her due date approaches, Juno must decide what is best for herself, Vanessa, the baby... and just maybe, the adoring Paulie.
Recliners on the lawn, cactus-grams, guitars with names and "The Wizard of Gore" -- it's pretty obvious that "Juno" will win prizes for kooky quirk, if nothing else. It certainly has that in spades, and while it has some awkwardly scripted moments, the colourful and acerbic portrait of a teenage girl having to make some heavy adult decisions is definitely a winning one.
Admittedly, "Juno" is a bit too precious in the first few scenes, when we have a weird store clerk saying things like "Your eggo is preggo" and getting replies like "Silencio!" Come on, loosen up and stop trying to be cooler-than-thou.
But as the pregnancy storyline really kicks in, "Juno" settles into a storyline that is equal parts quirky-funny and touching. Jason Reitman flavours the whole plot with his snappy, clever direction with plenty of acid-laced voiceovers from Juno, on the world around her. And Diablo Cody's dialogue ranges from deliciously sharp ("I'm not crying, I'm just allergic to fine home furnishing") to entertainingly over-the-top ("Phuket, Thailand!").
But as witty and quirky as the plot is, it wouldn't be much if it didn't also have a heart. As the movie winds on, we get to see Juno maturing -- learning to weigh coolness vs. maturity, appreciate her family, and what is right for her baby and the Lorings -- the scene where Juno helps an upset Vanessa talk to her baby is adorable. Not to mention that our pregnant heroine has to figure out whether true love is staring her in the face.
Ellen Page gives a note-perfect performance -- her Juno is funny, sassy, wise beyond her years, and profoundly unconventional ("Thundercats are go!"). Cera is equally good in a more subdued, lovably dorky role; it's pretty hard not to love Paulie just for being himself. And Garner and Bateman are wonderful too, as an uptight, lonely woman who desperately wants a baby, and a Peter Pan type who doesn't want to act like a grown-up. Bleah, who needs him?
"Juno" has its flaws -- moments of excessive preciousness -- but it has plenty of heart, wicked dialogue, and excellent acting. Call it a Cautionary Whale.