With child, not heavy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - MICHAEL DWYER

JUNO Di­rected by Ja­son Reit­man. Star­ring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jen­nifer Gar­ner, Ja­son Bate­man, Al­li­son Jan­ney, JK Sim­mons 15A cert, gen re­lease, 96 min

THE early scenes in Juno have the trade­marks of those cal­cu­lat­edly quirky indie pro­duc­tions that are mag­nets for North Amer­i­can film fes­ti­vals, emerg­ing out of nowhere for their mo­ment at Sun­dance, only to dis­ap­pear just as quickly.

Juno opens on a brightly coloured credit se­quence over the first of many catchy tunes from Kimya Daw­son, and all the char­ac­ters speak in hip­ster one­lin­ers that are funny but feel con­trived. Six­teen-year-old Juno McGuff has a ham­burger-shaped phone and says that her fa­ther named her af­ter the Ro­man god­dess who was “re­ally beau­ti­ful and re­ally mean, like Diana Ross”.

But then we get to know Juno (played by the vi­brant, ir­re­sistibly ap­peal­ing Ellen Page) and the char­ac­ters sur­round­ing her. And as we be­gin to care about them all, first im­pres­sions are ren­dered mis­lead­ing.

The fourth re­cent movie to take an un­planned preg­nancy as its turn­ing point, it in­tro­duces Juno as a bright, con­fi­dent and dis­arm­ingly frank pupil at Danc­ing Elk High in Min­nesota. Driven pri­mar­ily by cu­rios­ity, she and her fel­low stu­dent, a track ath­lete, en­dear­ingly played by Michael Cera, en­gage in sex­ual ex­per­i­men­ta­tion af­ter school.

When Juno dis­cov­ers she’s preg­nant, she im­pul­sively sets out “to pro­cure a hasty abor­tion”, but changes her mind. Be­liev­ing she is too young for moth­er­hood, she de­cides to find adop­tive par­ents for her un­born baby.

Juno’s quest leads her to a child­less cou­ple, Mark and Vanessa Lor­ing (Ja­son Bate­man and Jen­nifer Gar­ner), who live in com­fort­able sub­ur­bia, but the movie would be far less in­ter­est­ing if ev­ery­thing was so eas­ily re­solved.

Given that this com­ing-of-age story draws its teen char­ac­ters so sym­pa­thet­i­cally, one sus­pects that the Lor­ings are be­ing set up as the butt of the hu­mour as soon as we see that they live in one of a row of iden­ti­cal houses in Glacial Val­ley Es­tates.

First-time screen­writer Di­ablo Cody sur­prises again when she digs be­neath the sur­face of the Lor­ings and en­gages with them. She ex­tends the same af­fec­tion to Juno’s fa­ther (JK Sim­mons) and step­mother (a ra­di­ant Al­li­son Jan­ney), who, af­ter their ini­tial alarm at Juno’s news, prove solidly sup­port­ive. Still, there is noth­ing ide­alised about this movie as it fol­lows Juno over nine event­ful months and turns more se­ri­ous as the birth of her baby looms.

Fol­low­ing his as­sured fea­ture de­but with Thank You for Smok­ing, di­rec­tor Ja­son Reit­man nim­bly steers the char­ac­ters through the many com­pli­ca­tions in Cody’s fresh, imag­i­na­tive screen­play for a se­duc­tive movie that sparkles with wit and warmth.

Dif­fi­cult choices: Page and Cera in Juno

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