Movie Information

The Story: A teenage girl finds she's pregnant and makes arrangements to give her baby to a childless couple. The Lowdown: Avoiding the pitfalls of indie hipness, Juno emerges as a warm, witty film with terrific characters and performances.
Genre: Comedy-Drama
Director: Jason Reitman
Starring: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons
Rated: PG-13

When I first saw Jason Reitman’s Juno, I liked it a lot—maybe four-stars worth of a lot. When I watched it a second time, I loved it—five-stars worth. Positioned as this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006), marketed as a “quirky comedy” with a big to-do over the fact that first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody (born Brook Busey) is a former stripper, Juno came equipped with a lot to live up to—or to live down, depending on your outlook.

The fact is that it’s a much better movie than Little Miss Sunshine, and while Diablo Cody’s screenplay should not be sold short, so much of what makes Juno work lies in the direction and the playing of that screenplay. Without that, Juno would in fact be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine—an agreeable little movie that has trouble standing up to multiple viewings. It would be the forced quirk-a-thon the trailer indicates—which pays way too much attention to the blessedly minor contribution of Rainn Wilson.

Consider just a single scene from the film, the one in which Juno (Ellen Page, X-Men: The Last Stand) tells her father (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man 3) and stepmother (Allison Janney, Hairspray) that she’s pregnant. It’s a beautifully written piece of comedy, but it’s a beautifully played, directed and edited piece of very human comedy-drama. The script’s easy repartee is made believably awkward, and the somewhat glib exchange between father and daughter—“I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when”/“I really don’t know what kind of girl I am”—becomes a truly moving insight into the outwardly tough Juno, thanks to the long pause between his remark and her response, the careful shot breakdown and the remarkable performances of both Page and Simmons. Nothing that’s said here has any particular weight, but the presentation conveys his disappointment, her pain over that disappointment and the fear and insecurity Juno’s clever use of words tends to mask.

The story of a girl who gets pregnant by her not-exactly boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, Superbad), and decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption could have gone in any number of bad directions, but Juno always manages to avoid them. The word “quirky” has become so overused that it’s threatening to mean nothing (is there a single indie comedy that isn’t described that way?). As a result, I think the word “eccentric” is nearer the mark in describing Juno. The characters and their takes on the situation are clearly eccentric.

For example, Juno decides to have the baby for reasons she probably can’t explain even to herself, but which are grounded in the overall atmosphere of the clinic and the lackadaisical attitude of the clinic’s receptionist (Emily Perkins, She’s the Man) who tries to give Juno a boysenberry-scented condom (“My boyfriend uses them every time we have intercourse—they make his junk smell like pie”). But the offhand information that her baby already has fingernails—according to the lone protester (Valerie Tian, 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) outside the clinic—also seems to inform her decision. (This tidbit of knowledge seems to fascinate her stepmother, too.) The reasoning process is clearly personal—and just as clearly filtered through some distinctly unusual worldviews.

The same attitude pervades Juno’s encounters with the yuppie couple she opts to give the baby to, Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner). There’s a strange complexity to the relationship that springs up between Juno and Mark, who is much more like Juno than he’s like his wife. The film has the wit to explore this without taking the idea to a level that could have been ick-making. (If the movie has a single flaw, though, it lies in the somewhat inconclusive fate of Mark, who is one of its more interesting characters.) What’s remarkable is the way in which all the characters have their reasons, and they all have their hopes, dreams and fears—none of which are grounded in traditional expectations. At the same time, the eccentricities of the various viewpoints never feel contrived or manufactured for pure quirk value.

It all seems real. And it’s the magic of the film’s reality and its underlying wisdom that makes it such a worthwhile experience, such a moving and humanly funny work. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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20 thoughts on “Juno

  1. Thank goodness we have a decent film reviewer in town. I was reading the Raleigh paper at my dad’s over Christmas and I realized that their main reviewer is an empty jerk. While I may disagree with you sometimes about a movie, and while you may occasionally portray yourself as someone who does not weigh the opinions of others, you are not actually a jerk. Thank you.

    So I guess I don’t have anything to say about Juno per se, but I wanted to thank you and wish you a Happy New Year.

  2. Ken Hanke

    “While I may disagree with you sometimes about a movie, and while you may occasionally portray yourself as someone who does not weigh the opinions of others, you are not actually a jerk.”

    Thank you. I try not to be a jerk. I’ve actually never found a critic I agreed with all the time myself. And I do consider the opinions of others in many instances — I’ll often suggest that a thing I didn’t like might well appeal to others, or note that those around me liked it or that other critics had a very different reaction — I just don’t try to review things on the basis that I can divine how the reader may feel. (I tried that early on — see my review of CAST AWAY, which I pretty much hated, but figured a lot of people would like — but it felt dishonest.) Of course, there are limits. An awful lot of people seem to adore ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS, and not only can I not factor that in, I’m completely baffled by such a response.

    In any case, thank you and happy new year.

  3. metta

    i went into the theater wondering how teen pregnancy was going to play out in a comedy without making light of such a touchy subject. but it worked beautifully. i absolutely loved it.

    incidentally, i never understood all the fuss over LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. it was cute, but i thought the characters were a little hackneyed and i wasn’t overly impressed.

    JUNO, however…that’s good stuff.

  4. Ken Hanke

    I liked LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE a lot when I first saw it — and that was with a packed theater, which is probably the way a comedy should be seen. However, when awards time rolled around and the studio sent me their “For your consideration” screener, it just had a much lessened impact on me. Some of that may be the difference of watching it alone in my living room (this year I managed to arrange to see nearly every conceivable “best of” film on the big screen twice). But I really think it’s simpler than that — at least for me — and it comes down to I got all the good out of it in one sitting. JUNO, on the other hand, has depths and nuances that are enhanced by subsequent viewings. For me, that’s kind of the acid test.

  5. Walt

    An amazingly interesting and entertaining funny-serious film! Juno MacGuff as played by Ellen Page is wonderful! And if the characters in Juno are eccentric then we need a whole lot more eccentricity in the world. Couldn’t agree more with the 5 star rating!

  6. Ken Hanke

    “And if the characters in Juno are eccentric then we need a whole lot more eccentricity in the world.”

    Well said!

  7. Natasha

    Not to turn this away from a discussion of Juno, but having moved to Raleigh from Asheville (it was a mistake I admit) I also have to agree with Shades. The Raleigh paper’s reviewer is not to be trusted – for quality movies it’s best to go to the ones he blasts. I keep coming back to the Mountain Xpress because it has THE BEST movie reviews. I’m so glad you guys have a website!

  8. Steve

    To respond to an earlier comment.

    I think there is a lot of eccentricity in the world. I know a lot of really interesting people. It’s just that eccentricity doesn’t get a lot of play on the big screen usually.

    So many movies are just slot a into tab b to sell a predictable amount of tickets.

  9. Ken Hanke

    Oh, there’s a lot of faux eccentricity on the screen, but it tends to feel very faux and forced. While I would probably draw the line at calling the characters in JUNO realistic, they at least offer a good illusion of reality. Their eccentricities seem realistically grounded in the characters and in the world of the movie.

  10. TonyRo

    I got sort of peeved when I started hearing buzz for this flick last year. I figured that Hollywood was looking for another LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (which it was) and that JUNO was going to be the new “quirky” (hate that word) little comedy of 2008. It sort of is, but it’s also very good.

    I just shudder thinking of all the JUNO clones to come within the next year or so. Kind of sucks how you can’t just have a good movie and leave it be.

  11. Ken Hanke

    “Kind of sucks how you can’t just have a good movie and leave it be.”

    Unfortunately, that’s been with us as long as there’ve been movies — probably plays and books, too, come to that.

  12. Adam Renkovish

    Excellent review! I write film reviews for my universities newspaper, and I am fixing to write up reviews of all of the Best Picture contenders for the Oscars this year. This got nominated, and I will be oh-so-happy if it wins. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the other contenders as well, but this one was very special to me. Ellen Page is amazing. If you haven’t seen “Hard Candy”, seek it out on DVD. It’s pretty intense.

  13. Ken Hanke

    It’s an unusual year in that there’s nothing up for Best Picture that makes me groan. I will say I don’t think MICHAEL CLAYTON is a terrific choice, but it’s not an indefensible one. There is some thought out there that JUNO might actually win on the basis that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and THERE WILL BE BLOOD may cancel each other out. Much as I admire both films, I really wouldn’t mind seeing that happen.

  14. TonyRo

    I thought Ratatouille was better than Juno, but I guess the Academy won’t ever consider animated film as being on par with live-action. Go figure.

  15. Ken Hanke

    While I found RATATOUILLE only mildly amusing (and that mostly for the Peter O’Toole character), it does seem to me that at least one animated film did get a Best Picture nomination at some point. I think it was BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

  16. TonyRo

    yea it did get a best picture nomination, but i mean obvious choices (The Lion King or Toy Story 2 come to mind) were skipped over.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Well, those choices are more obvious to you than they are to me, I’d say, but I’m not the world’s biggest fan of animation — with a few notable exceptions.

  18. Sunday

    Late as always, but I thought the film was charming and sincere throughout, a few awkward moments of dialogue in the opening scene aside. Nice to see a film on this subject that doesn’t take a preachy political stand…or try to point out the ‘error’ of the main character’s ways by resorting to some contrived revelation towards the end. Furthermore, how refreshing to see a group of clearly FLAWED characters (on some level or another) that are all still quite likeable despite themselves.

  19. Ken Hanke

    If you take in the new movie SMART PEOPLE, you’ll seen how special JUNO is by comparison. Justin suggested that I ought to have put this one in my list of “Asheville movies,” but I think this may have been more of a national phenomenon — even if 13 weeks in one theater locally on its first release is pretty darn impressive.

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