An immensely overrated teen pregnancy dramady, Jason Reitman’s Juno was a favorite at film festivals and award ceremonies, and among most audiences last year. Like the director’s previous Thank You for Smoking, the film tackles a controversial subject and admirably explores it, never taking sides or forming a strong moral stance and becoming a polemic.
But a barrage of pop-culture references without context and a nails-on-chalkboard lead performance by Ellen Page turn this into an episode of Family Guy without the laughs.
Page stars as the titular character, Juno MacGuff, pregnant and undecided about what to do about it. Father-to-be Paulie (Michael Cera) doesn’t quite know what to make of it, nor do Juno’s loving parents (Alison Janney and J.K. Simmons).
After a visit to an abortion clinic leaves her cold, Juno decides to have the baby, and give it up for adoption. But the parents have to be right. So she takes out an ad in the local Pennysaver and finds the perfect yuppie parents for her unborn child: suburbanites Mark (Jason Bateman) and Bren (Jennifer Garner).
Trouble ensues when Juno gets to know them better, and Mark begins to have doubts about his marriage and impending fatherhood.
Diablo Cody’s screenplay somehow won an Oscar, but it’s the biggest problem I had with the film.
By turns insincere, illogical, and unsatisfying, I failed to feel any kind of emotional connection with these characters (with the possible exception of Bren), who consistently put me off with their ‘clever’ dialogue. Juno has been called smart, funny, charming, and witty, but no – like its main character, it only thinks it is.
This is painfully evident during a scene in which Juno and Mark discuss grunge music and horror films, in particular directors Dario Argento and Herschell Gordon Lewis: the names hang in the air, weighty, obscure references that neither the actors nor the screenwriter know what to do with.
It’s anti-Tarantino; a direct ripoff of the scene in American Beauty where Kevin Spacey and Wes Bentley get high and recall vague memories of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, only here Cody makes the mistake of bringing the reference into the foreground, where we await a punchline – or even a knowing wink – that never comes.
The film will live and die by Cody’s script and Page’s lead performance, which I found absolutely grating. I still applaud director Reitman’s intentions and the film is certainly worth seeing – you’ll likely have a different reaction than I did.