The opening credits of Juno show a young girl casually navigating the streets of her town while drinking a one-litre bottle of Sunny D. She isn’t beautiful or glamourous, but there’s something about her; a certain combination of confidence and nonchalance that’s instantly winning. Fortunately for the viewer, this charming combination in the opening credits defines the rest of the film as well, commanding both her attention and admiration.
Juno MacGuff’s story is simple: she’s sixteen and she has sex with her best friend, Paulie Bleeker. In a fit of negligence that (I think) is strangely out of character, she winds up pregnant. Instead of getting an abortion, she makes the not-really-so-unusual decision to have the baby and give it up for adoption. To this end, she goes through a local newspaper to find prospective parents and zeroes in on Mark and Vanessa Loring, a wealthy upper-class couple who cannot have children of their own. Her relationship with them and the rest of the people involved form the basis for everything that follows.
Ultimately, though, the movie is not so much about the story as how it is played out. It takes a while to get used to the dialogues, because they’re witty and unusual, just like the characters who say them. In fact, several references may escape even the youth of today and the viewer might be left slightly bewildered. It gets easier when you watch it again, though, if that’s any consolation. But for sheer sparkle and ingenuity, it’s hard to beat Juno.
On the surface it seems like the movie doesn’t really resolve any vital teenage issues, despite being centred on teen pregnancy. Even though Juno decides against the abortion, it’s never in a self-righteous, crusading spirit. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine her being self-righteous about anything. I really loved the fact that there was no glaring pro-life message. If anything, the film’s message is about tolerance, acceptance and independence; it’s about the freedom to make your own choices and live your own life. It’s also about having faith in yourself and your ability to make decisions. Our lead protagonist has a mind of steel; she’s never fazed by anything that happens and boy, is she smart!
Much of Juno’s charm and strength must be attributed to Ellen Page, whose performance is simply superb. Though she has acted in big movies like X-Men before, it’s only in Juno that her innate talent gets a chance to shine through and she deserves every bit of acclaim that she’s received, including a coveted Oscar nomination. She is flawless throughout the film, but I felt she was particularly good in the scene where she tells Paulie she’s pregnant. I won’t give it away; you must watch the movie to appreciate it.
Michael Cera is well cast as Paulie, being sufficiently awkward and odd, but it is a bit difficult to perceive what Juno found attractive about him. Oh well, perhaps beauty really does lie in the eyes of the beholder. Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman do a fantastic job as the prospective adoptive parents and a severely mismatched couple. Allison Janney deserves special mention as Bren MacGuff, Juno’s stepmother. She gets some of the best lines in the film and she delivers them with great panache.
Remember that Hollywood churns out teen movies like Bollywood makes love stories (or if you prefer, like Shahrukh Khan signs endorsement deals) and, therefore, they are often just as B-grade and cringe-worthy. So Juno is that rare thing – a really intelligent teen movie. It’s not that it doesn’t have its share of crass humour or profanity; it fully deserves its PG-13 rating and I’m willing to bet it’ll get an A certificate if and when it releases in India. But Juno rises above all of that because of its fascinating, distinctive characters, the likes of which I haven’t seen in any other movie of the same genre (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot).
Basically, this is one you don’t want to miss.
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