Original US release date: December 5, 2007
Production budget: $7,500,000
Worldwide gross: $231,411,584
Squeezed out at the end of 2007 in order to be eligible for the 2008 awards season, Juno was a rare example of a small little independent film that caught fire with general audiences and became a bit of a phenomenon at the beginning of 2008. The film was nominated for Best Picture at (among others) the Academy Awards and Diablo Cody won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making the film a raging success with audiences, critics, and within the industry, itself. I don’t hear much about it, anymore, suggesting that the film has become somewhat forgotten over the last decade, so here I am to remind people about the little engine that could that went by the name of Juno.
The premise behind Juno is simple: the precocious sixteen-year-old title character (Ellen Page) is impregnated by her friend-with-benefits/maybe-boyfriend/look-it’s-complicated-okay? Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). Filling out the tremendous supporting cast are Juno’s parents (J. K. Simmons and Allison Janney), who have no choice but to take the situation in stride, and the potential adoptive parents of Juno’s unborn child, Marc and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).
It’s a cast that virtually anyone should love, though I suspect that Cera can be polarizing. Paulie Bleeker is essentially the exact same character that Cera always portrays, but this was only his second major film role at this point, so the act had yet to wear thin. Also, I take Cera’s very presence to be a deliberate choice to assist in crafting the tone and the humor of the film. Seriously, is it easy to imagine Michael Cera, of all people, accidentally impregnating someone? Even Simmons’s Mac makes a comment to that point, and in that moment, Juno’s supportive best friend Thea (Olivia Thirlby) seems relieved that someone finally says what she’s been thinking. It didn’t have to be Cera, but the fact that he’s the father adds to the charm of the picture and he does well in the role.
The film also served as another stepping stone to stardom for Ellen Page. Her visibility has dropped off in recent years (despite the fact that she is, in fact, still working regularly), but ten years ago, she was blossoming into the new It Girl in Hollywood. She received major praise for her performance in the disturbing revenge thriller Hard Candy, but most general audiences missed it. After that, she was (perfectly) cast as the legendary X-Man Kitty Pryde in X-Men: The Last Stand. Lots of people saw that one, but she wasn’t the lead, so her impact was minimal. She had a couple of small releases after that, but it was Juno that then brought her to the forefront of audiences’ radar and almost single-handedly made her a household name for a few years.
Juno is a quick-witted, well-read, intelligent girl who wasn’t quite as ready for life as she wanted everyone to think she was. She knows things most sixteen-year-olds don’t know, thinks in ways they don’t think, and handles situations with respectable maturity, even after getting into them due to her own poor judgement. She plays everything off as No Big Deal, but Juno wants to handle the situation responsibly and is trying to do what will be best for the unborn child.
As she gets to know the adoptive parents, her path becomes clearer. Jennifer Garner does well as the softhearted housewife who only ever wanted to be a mother, though the part hardly stretches her abilities. Jason Bateman’s Marc is more against-type for him. While he usually plays the deadpan comedian, here – even though he certainly has a sense of humor – he’s a little heavier. There’s something going on with Marc that we don’t know, and Bateman conveys that to audience with apparent ease.
The film was directed by Jason Reitman (who also directed one of my two favorite George Clooney films, Up in the Air) but I only remember how so many people were throwing around Diablo Cody’s name in the wake of the success of Juno. And I don’t just mean people within and around the industry; fans and even people I knew were suddenly discussing her as if they had known her all along and were just waiting for her to hit it big. Huge fans, they were. So huge that they didn’t really follow her to her other projects such as Young Adult (which was great), Jennifer’s Body (also great, but people won’t admit it because it stars Megan Fox), and Ricki and the Flash (never got around to seeing it. Sorry?). It’s no surprise that everyone wanted to jump on the Diablo Cody bandwagon with the emergence of Juno, however. The script is quick, sharp, clever, and heartfelt. Her characters make mistakes, learn, grow, and move on with their lives, all while looking at life with the tongue-in-cheek resignation of people who know they don’t really have control of anything. They live their lives and just do what they can to make it from day to day. There’s something appealing in that.
Juno is a creative success in every way that Reitman and company intended it to be. But, ultimately, it was a financial success because of its unrelenting charm. It’s tough not to fall for Juno, herself, and Page radiates energy throughout the entire film. The rest of the cast (especially Simmons) helps her along at every turn and the whole film is a fun, lighthearted look at the serious issue of teen pregnancy. It’s not a topic that’s often tackled in film, and it can be a delicate one, but Juno handles it with class, poise, and a whimsical wink that enchants the viewer from the very beginning and never lets go. Don’t forget about Juno. It deserves better.
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