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Great expectation

Charming and funny indie film Juno is sometimes more irky than quirky, says Nicola Mostyn

Published on February 13th 2008.


Great expectation

SEEMS Juno is everyone's favourite new arrival. Writer Diablo Cody won a Bafta for best original screenplay, actress Ellen Page is gaining plaudits for her role as the 16-year-old mother-to-be and everywhere you look people are queuing up to heap praise on this off-beat comedy drama.

And there's plenty to like about this, the latest film from Jason Reitman, the director of 2005's Thank You For Smoking. Juno MacGuff (Page) is a smart-mouthed, tomboyish high school student whose one night stand with band mate and fellow geek Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, Superbad) gets her in the family way. After an abortive attempt at an abortion, Juno decides to take the pregnancy to term and give the gift of life to a childless couple (or as she puts it, "the desperately seeking spawn.") In this case the beautiful and well-to-do Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). As Juno grows ever larger, and gets to know the adoptive parents better, she has to sort out her own complicated relationships and deal with the impact of a grown-up couple who may be no more prepared for parenthood than she is.

The first thing that strikes you about Juno is the dialogue: it is snappy and clever-clever, the sort of unnatural, slangy language heard in the brilliant Heathers, with a touch of the (arguably less-brilliant) Dawson Creek. But unlike Heathers, Juno does not have the benefit of a surreal narrative, and hearing such artificial language in everyday scenarios does begin to verge on the annoying.

Happily, the film is so strong in other areas that this is forgiveable. Ellen Page, seen in X Men: The Last Stand and, more memorably, Hard Candy, is still on ball-busting form as the intelligent, pretentious adolescent and has the weight and presence to make the smart-ass dialogue her own. Michael Cera is adorable as the bewildered not-quite-boyfriend, Olivia Thirlby is fun as Juno's best friend and Garner and Batemen are thoroughly convincing as the couple who only need one thing, in theory, to complete their perfect life.

There are some touching and intelligent moments in this film - such as where Juno is calling the family planning clinic on her hamburger phone, or where she turns motor mouth when she first meets the prospective parents - which show that, for all the witty words, this film can handle the serious with warmth and sensitivity.

And the issues Juno raises, while familiar from recent releases such as Knocked Up and Waitress, feel fresh and ambitious. The exploration of Vanessa and Mark's marriage, and Mark's relationship with Juno, particularly, show that writer Diablo Cody is as adept at understanding the complexities of adult life as she is at mastering the wise-cracking world of the teenage indie kid.

The soundtrack is great, too, chock-full of low-fi indie gems which perfectly fit this world of Converse and quirky conversations. But again, something about this grates. It feels a little overdone as track after track fit the bill too well - sort of kooky-by-numbers.

And this was my main problem with Juno. This is an amusing, original and intelligent film that I wanted to unreservedly love, but its celebration of geekdom hit a bum note. While it is gratifying to see "normal" people on the big screen with their overbites and their flab and their pipe-cleaner legs, the relentlessness of this depiction felt too deliberate and, crucially, the strong, sparky Juno seemed too resilient.

I enjoy a film which champions the alternative but, for all its charm, Juno goes too far down that road, idealising, stereotyping and, thus, misrepresenting the offbeat, much like any Hollywood blockbuster does the blonde and the beautiful.

7/10
Juno (12a) is on general release

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