(This review was originally published online by The Film Nerd.)
It’s been nearly three years since Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody plastered silver screens with their indie infused, sublimely suburban pop culture smash Juno, and we’re still left with its tangy after taste of orange tic-tacs in our mouths.
I recently re-visited the ‘07 comedy starring a fiery Ellen Page and typically numb Michael Cera and upon further inspection found its highest points still eroding my every attempt to dismiss its precociousness. Reitman’s pace perfect and Cody’s wit unfailing, Juno fires shot after shot at its audience. The film only lets up long enough to subtly suck you back into its emotional depths before catapulting itself back into a post-Napoleon Dynamite niche. It's a real roller coaster.
The film’s serious players, a wonderfully smug (his most endearing on-screen characteristic, no matter who he’s playing) Jason Bateman as Mark and surprisingly vicious Jennifer Gardner as Vanessa, have just enough yuppie quirk to survive a scathing stereotype (although the couple flirts with such trite classification the entire film). The film’s eccentric players, Reitman staple J.K. Simmons as Juno’s dad Mac and perfectly cast Allison Janney as stepmom Brenda, manage just enough humanity to call to mind your pink flamingo and gnome covered lawn neighbor down the street.
While Cody’s script is not immune to near-gag-worthy speeches about love and friendship and making others happy, its cheese ball weaknesses are overshadowed by its brilliant one liners and hilarious dialogue. It mixes equal parts emotional realism and comedic drive into a 96 minute gut punch that leaves you in side splitting laughter and stomach wrenching unease as you watch a 16 year old girl carry and deliver her first child.
In anyone else’s hands but the refreshingly apt Reitman’s, the Cody penned screenplay
could have been disastrous. But Reitman brings enough brevity to his character’s predicaments and reality to their words that we buy it.
Every minute of it.
By assembling a near perfect cast and an even more perfect soundtrack, Reitman knows exactly what the film needs, from its opening animated credits to its smile inducing acoustic close. That closing song, as bare and believable as the film itself, begs to make an equally bare statement.
Yet there are only a few moments in the span of the film that ground it, that pull it back into the stone cold suburbia where it takes place. These few moments are probably regarded by many as the uncomfortably awkward ones and introduce a secondary plot line that is never fully addressed or resolved. It’s the moment when Juno calls Mark just to say hi. It’s the moment when they slow dance together alone in the basement. He is a man completely unhappy, trapped in a suffocating relationship (wait for Vanessa to call his shirt dumb). She is a lost girl, pregnant and scared.
They emotionally connect.
The terribly subtle implications are never fully realized but their meanings stick with you until the closing frames. Mark, who we first see as calm and hip, may not be entirely perverted but he is certainly not entirely blameless. Juno does little to help these tendencies. No one’s fully to blame, but that’s Reitman's point.
While their connection seems irrelevant, it preludes all of the decisions Mark will make throughout the course of the film, ultimately resulting in he and Vanessa’s divorce. In these moments Reitman finds reality. In these moments Juno strikes a collective nerve and begs to reach deeper than our funny bones.
And it does.
Juno, though containing its own quirks, is not wholly original. But then again, what is? It’s a tally mark in the recent line of indie romance comedies (see Braff’s Gardenstate, Crowe’s Elizabethtown and, more recently, Webb’s 500 Days of Summer) about young kids searching for something, finding love, and sometimes losing it.
These pictures will always be made.
But re-visiting the Best Picture nominated Juno pulls us back to a place equal parts comfort and unease, both elements necessary to the film's truisms. After all, in the words of Juno herself, “It started and ended with a chair.”