Friday, December 14, 2007

Teen pregnancy -- for laughs and for real

Summary: Most teen-agers don't talk like Juno, the pregnant heroine of Jason Reitman's new comedy, but then most movies about teen-agers don't credit young people with having much depth or intelligence. Written by newcomer Diablo Cody, "Juno" manages a neat trick: it's breezy and human at the same time.

Juno (Ellen Page) begins the movie of which she's the title character by discovering that she's pregnant. It may sound strange to say that teen-pregnancy marks the beginning of a comedy, but it's probably fitting. Before it's done, "Juno" manages to shatter more than a few stereotypes. Director Jason Reitman brings snappy pacing to his second movie, following on the heels of "Thank Your For Smoking," and Page's performance already is being pushed for an Oscar nomination. She deserves one.

Awards aside, credit Page, who starred in the little-seen "Hard Candy," with creating a character who responds to her situation as a child of the new century. She might as well be a reacting to a movie. She's smart, funny and critical about what's happening to her, and she probably doesn't fully grasp the difficulty she's created for herself.

Those who find "Juno" off-putting because teen-agers don't usually come wrapped in so much glib banter may be selling Page's performance short. She makes the character into a believable young eccentric, and the times when the eccentricities seem a trifle forced are overcome by stretches in which you forget about Cody's writing (she was discovered turning out a blog) and begin to take Juno for what she is: a plucky kid who pushes past resistance -- in her brief and slightly absurd life and in the hearts of audiences unaccustomed to kids who give as good as they get.

After flirting with abortion, Juno decides to have the baby but to give it up for adoption. Enter a suburban couple (Jason Batement and Jennifer Garner) so typical they look as if they've been torn from the pages of a catalog. Don't let appearances fool you. As the movie progresses, Bateman's character becomes more shallow, and Garner's deepens, and before you know it, "Juno" begins to dig deeper than its breezy opening may have led you to believe possible.

Even Juno's parents -- dad (J.K. Simmons) and step-mom (Allison Janey) -- are allowed to blossom as characters. When they first hear about Juno's pregnancy, they acknowledge that they'd hoped her "confession" could have been about drug use or a DUI. Anything, but a pregnancy. But guess what? Turns out they'd rather support their kid than humiliate her.

Reitman further adds to the movie's appeal by casting Michael Cera ("Superbad") as Juno's more-or-less love interest and the father of her child. For every moment that threatens to shatter credibility, Cera serves as an odd antidote. His expressions of mild confusion say a lot, as do the times when he (as you would expect from a kid in his position) says nothing. Dumbstruck by the situation, he doesn't try to express more than he's capable of understanding. His personality may not be fully formed, but he, too, is bowled over by Juno.

1 comment:

Cilicious said...

Good to see you unleashed.
I read you at the News for years and years, and continued after I moved.
Where I am now, we have one theater which mostly gets big-name movies, though they surprise me now and then.
Thank goodness for Netflix.
Ellen Page fascinated me in Hard Candy, and I hope to see Juno, but it might not be for another 6 months.