Offbeat and surprising, Jason Reitman's (Thank You for Smoking) second film is about perky, outspoken, wisecracking Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page, who made some waves in Hard Candy), a 16-year-old with the kind of curiosity that leads her to have sex with her best pal Paulie (Michael Cera), just because it's something to do.
That leads to a pregnancy test, the results, her breaking the news to Paulie, a confession to her parents (J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney) and a trip to the abortion clinic. But something happens -- suffice to say it has to do with fingernails -- that changes her mind. Unconventional Juno decides to go through with the pregnancy, then give the baby to "a cool couple."
When she sees the photo of young, upwardly mobile and childless Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) in a classified ad, she just knows they'll be the perfect parents.
That's only the beginning of this sweet and funny and heartfelt film, filled with snappy dialogue and spot-on delivery -- especially by Page, who is nothing short of a wonder in the part. The dialogue is quirky (there's that word again) and wise, a feat that's generally unexpected in a script from a first-timer, in this case former stripper Diablo Cody, who based part of the story on the pregnancy of a girl she knew many years ago.
The film takes a look at the ups and downs, the joys and the pitfalls of the arrangement set up between Juno and the happy "cool" couple. At the same time, it turns this odd situation on its head, with subtle hints that not everything is quite as it appears.
Take, for instance, Mark and Vanessa, who are having infertility problems. He's a laid-back free spirit; she's ready to become Supermom. He's a happy fellow; she's an uptight perfectionist. They're concerned that Juno might back out of her agreement because they were close to adoption once before, till there was a case of cold feet. It's revealed late in the film that there's more than one way to take all of that information.
But there's only one way to take the lead character: You simply fall for her. It doesn't matter that she talks too much and too fast, or that she's sharper than anyone her age could possibly be. You smile when she does something right, you cringe when she does something you believe isn't in her best interests. You scratch your head when she gets into a discussion with Mark about who is the better horror director -- Herschell Gordon Lewis or Dario Argento -- and you sigh (and smile) when she goes over to Paulie's home to ponder what the future might hold for them, being pals and all.
Perhaps the best part of the script is the way changes in characters are developed. In some cases, the people in the film are very different at the end than when they're met. In others, there's a full-circle voyage of mind, behavior and attitude.
There are a few serious ingredients in the storyline, but the film is mostly an upbeat comedy. The mood is greatly added to by a, let's say, unconventional soundtrack featuring a couple of well-known songs by the Kinks and Mott the Hoople, as well as some light and lilting and kind of goofy (quirky?) less popular tunes by the likes of the Moldy Peaches and Antsy Pants -- just the kind of music that someone like Juno would listen to. It was a brilliant idea to include the lovely and childish "I'm Sticking With You" by the Velvet Underground. But nothing is better than when, just before the credits, two characters -- likely your favorite ones -- pick up guitars and sing "Anyone Else But You" to each other. It's a delightful, magical few minutes, and a perfect ending. You, too, will be singing that song.