Director Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Thank You For Smoking bears the self-consciously hip tone and highly affected aesthetic of an emerging talent’s debut film, of the sort straddling the line between trying-too-hard to be an instant cult classic and actually being an instant cult classic.
While the 30-year-old Reitman’s got at least one incredible movie under his belt already, Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody actually is an emerging talent making her debut here, so certainly a great deal of the cuteness may be hers to take credit for/accept blame for. From the high school notebook sketch font on the credits and titles to the Wes Anderson-like reliance on soundtrack, costume and set design for storytelling purposes, nearly every frame of Juno betrays a film that could have gone horribly, horribly wrong instead of going so pleasantly, pleasantly right.
The ticks and quirks of the characters and their situations might grate more if they weren’t mostly teens, so of course they’re going to sound like they’re trying too hard to be grown up or sound clever. And aside from The Office’s Rainn Wilson’s convenience store clerk, the characters spouting slang that would make Joss Whedon blush are teenagers.
Hard Candy’s Ellen Page plays sharp-tongued 16-year-old Juno MacGuff, who has just discovered that she’s become pregnant during the act of de-flowering her best friend Michael Cera, playing only a slight variation of the nervous, awkward teens he played in Superbad and on Arrested Development.
After flirting with “nipping it in the bud,” she decides to go ahead and have it and give it up for adoption. With the help of her father J.K. Simmons and stepmother Allison Janney (both doing incredibly layered performances, with sitcom middleclass parents only the uppermost one), she finds a couple that seems perfect.
Perhaps too perfect.
They’re a yuppy couple played by Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman; she seems a little too desperate for a baby and a little too bossy toward her husband, who shares more in common with Juno than his own wife, but the characters, like the performances have more layers than an Everlasting Gobstopper.
It’s the strength of these performances, and the balance that Reitman and Cody strike between telling a good story and telling it in a cool way that makes Juno work as well as it does. While it takes a few minutes to find its footing, once it does, its off and running, and that line between between trying-too-hard to be an instant cult classic and actually being an instant cult classic? Juno ultimately ends up on the side of the latter.