I did not have high expectations going into Juno, mainly because I sat through the trailer a million times and quickly grew tired of its self-consciously cutesy-clever dialogue, written by a debut screenwriter with the self-consciously cutesy-clever moniker of Diablo Cody (real name: Brook Busey-Hunt). The fact that stripper-blogger-screenwriter Cody has been force-fed to the filmgoing public as the new flavor of the month also didn't bode well. But I figured I should see Juno just to have an informed opinion.
I wound up liking the film - about a smart-alecky teen (the titular Juno, played by Ellen Page) who gets knocked up by her gawky boyfriend (Superbad's Michael Cera) and decides to adopt the baby out - very much. Sure, Cody is still guilty of that dialogue, but the worst of it is in the trailer, and the stylized slang eventually subsides, so that the characters can be themselves and speak their true feelings. Cody has, in fact, fashioned both excellent characters and a well-told story.
Director Jason Reitman, whose own debut, the overrated Thank You for Smoking, had its share self-consciously cutesy-clever flourishes as well, also tones down his visual gimmickry, much to Juno's benefit. Although I think it's unintentional, there's some smart structural work here: the film at first distracts the audience with its glib patter and wacky production design, only to surprise us later on with genuine heart and soul. It's an accomplishment that Wes Anderson continues to try and fail at, so good on Reitman, Cody, and their strong cast.
I'm aware that some viewers may not get past the quirk - the soundtrack by eccentric lesbian singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson absolutely screams "quirky" - but I'm happily surprised that I did. Extra credit is due to Michael Cera's sweet, no-nonsense presence. I liked him from the start even as it took me a while to get around to admiring Page's smirky character. Once the smirk is wiped off her face, this young Canadian actress - who filmmakers and handlers have been prepping for stardom for over two years now - delivers a very affecting performance.
I'm not sure if I would be writing such a rave review if my expectations were higher - I call this the Die Hard phenomenon, where a movie catches you off guard by not being as terrible as you thought it would be - and I still can't give Cody's script an A, as its dialogue tries to hard to be quotable and it contains the occasional plot hole. But there's a lot to like, and Page and Cera have wonderful chemistry. Also putting in unexpectedly strong performances are Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner as the would-be adoptive parents, who have their own problems to deal with. They are very well-written and well-performed characters who transcend the stereotypes they seem to be at first glance.
All in all, Juno is a charming little human comedy that deserves most - though not all - of the hype.