So much shameless hype infects the movie biz that it can be unclear when raves are genuinely deserved. But Juno lives up to its critical praise, its Top 10 lists, its impressive box office and its Oscar for Diablo Cody’s screenplay. That’s even more true on DVD, where it’s bolstered by strong extra features, including almost 20 minutes of largely worthy footage among its deleted scenes.
The film is so smartly written and performed that it’s both wryly entertaining and quirkily real. Consider it a female kind of Rushmore meets Slacker – a coming-of-age yarn enlivened by lovable eccentricities without sacrificing its real-world credibility.
Director Jason Reitman and star Ellen Page both deserved their Oscar noms, as did the movie, for best picture. It was, in effect, this year’s Little Miss Sunshine in the best-pic category, which otherwise was dominated by dark, dreary, pretentious fare that confused weightiness for art. Juno is weighty, too, in that its characters evolve and make critical decisions. But it’s also warmly human and endearing, rather than wallowing in the worst of the world, a la There Will Be Blood and other knee-jerk Oscar favorites.
Page alone is an enormous revelation as the title character, a high school junior who doesn’t try to channel Britney or Paris but instead is a tomboyish lover of punk rock and horror flicks. Her best friend — and potential boyfriend — is non-threatening Tic Tac devotee and track star Bleeker (Michael Cera in his best understated mode). When they finally “do it,” she gets knocked up, and instead of aborting a child she doesn’t want, she decides to produce the infant and give it to a worthy couple, in this case baby-hungry Jennifer Garner and less enthused husband Jason Bateman. Juno’s dad (J.K. Simmons) and stepmon (Allison Janney) gamely get behind this.
Cody’s comic misadventure has some of the most dead-on dialogue of any recent film, and Page is sensational. Oscar, of course, preferred Marion Cotillard’s histrionic and tortured performance in the depressing La Vie En Rose. So predictable. News flash: Comedy — especially this kind of word-friendly, character-driven comedy without reliance on potty humor or slapstick — is perhaps even harder to play than shrieking drama. But at least Page was nominated.
Even the deleted scenes have strong moments, which I won’t spill here. Heck, even the screen tests are terrific. I also give Juno props for not being as preachy in a “make babies” message as most movies, which often play like infomercials for the infant-care industry. This girl clearly is not ready to be a mom, and unlike a certain underage celeb from a neighboring state of mine, she has the sense and decency to recognize that. Not everyone is cut out for parenthood, and there’s legitimacy in exploring one’s own life before retreating into a baby-focused cocoon. All this makes Juno my favorite film of 2007, and my favorite DVD of the year to date.