It may only be February, but I don’t expect to see a better film than Juno the rest of this year. If you object to some mild spoilers, it’s probably best you stop reading now and go and play a game instead.
Juno of the title is a sixteen year-old girl who decides it’s time to experiment sexually and enlists her friend Paulie to join her — then she ends up pregnant.
It’s a familiar enough premise, but where the movie then goes is unlike anything I’ve seen recently. What marks it out for me, and what makes it so special, is the sheer believability of it all.
Underneath the so-hip-it-hurts witty banter (Juno talks like every teenager wishes they did — she talks like I wish I did), the characters and their relationships, their confusion and fear and their developing reactions to the situation all ring true.
The only real sticking point is that dialogue, which initially feels a little contrived and a little too self-aware, but within ten minutes my brain had found its rhythm and took it for what it was, a little bit of humourous caricature that emphasises depth and honesty rather than hiding it. Ellen Page layers it over her character while still showing us the confusion and insecurity that Juno doesn’t quite want to admit to.
Michael Cera is half of the duo that made Superbad so engaging despite its ick, and he does the same here as the father of the child, fumbling his way through the sweet little love story. He also has the line that captures perfectly what it’s like to be a teenager (at least the way I remember it): Juno says, “‘Cause you’re, like, the coolest person I’ve ever met, and you don’t even have to try, you know…” Paulie’s reply, “I try really hard, actually.”
Other highlights include, unlike in most teen comedies, that Juno’s parents are actually very likable, doing their best to look out for her while they themselves haven’t a clue what to do, and their reaction to her news also seems spot on. The soundtrack sent me straight to iTunes, and the whole look of the film was… I’m sorry that I’m having to stop myself using a word like ‘enchanting’.
The trick the film pulls is that by the end you’ve come to really care about the characters, and when Juno gives birth and is giving her baby up to be adopted, and her father sits with her without saying much, you’re just about ready to cry with her.
Teenage pregnancy is a headline-grabber of an issue, but what Juno does, with its little glimpses of grace, is remind that completely apart from sermons and glib ‘solutions’, real people have to get on dealing with real life.