Juno (2007) may be this year’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in that it was a limited release independent film turned strong contender for this year’s Academy Awards. (Perhaps there is one every year, with Garden State (2004) preceding both). With just a $7.5 million filming budget, it has grossed over $110 million since.1 Neither director Jason Reitman, nor writer Diablo Cody, both of whom earned individual Oscar nominations, have many film or television credits prior to this. Reitman previously directed the highly lauded comedy, Thank You For Smoking, whereas Juno marks Cody’s first screenplay, prior to which she had made her entry into the spotlight writing about her previous career as a stripper in Minneapolis.
Ellen Page, who garners a Best Actress nomination, plays the spunky title character, Juno in this mix of witty comedy and somewhat tragic drama. “It all started with a chair,” begins Juno’s seemingly reluctant explanation. Confirmed by four pregnancy tests, Juno was impregnated by her timid friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), in the most indifferent manner of fooling around, and now she has to decide what to do about that. Abortion seems like an easy option until a trip to a clinic triggers the gross realization of a cycle of similar indifference on the one hand, and sudden connection with the impending baby on the other, after which Juno decides to go through with the birth. Investigating the perfect couple to adopt the baby when it’s born, Juno finds the Lorings (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) in the Pennysaver and is sure that they possess all those highly desirable qualities of perfection necessary for life’s newcomer. Well, before long she gets to know the couple and realize that behind the vanilla scented candles and khaki color schemes, they’re just as susceptible to life’s problems as anyone else. As time goes on, the end that Juno eventually aspires for is constantly questioned.
Juno has likely (and mistakenly) given a first impression of being an extension of the nonsense nostalgia and amusing absurdity of films like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Eagle v. Shark (2007), which is understandable just considering the advertising paraphernalia alone. The childish mint green lettering atop the tacky orange and white striped background. A puzzled Cera, his pale shapeless legs emphasized by short yellow running shorts, standing next to the more confident-looking, pregnant teenager played well by Page.
Though this is the taboo story of the teen girl who just as nonchalantly endures the pregnancy as she did the act of conception, there is a certain innocence inherent in the film, and especially in the music, which is primarily comprised of tracks from solo folk singer and former Moldy Peaches bandmate, Kimya Dawson. Her playful songs possess a sweet childishness. And yet, the childishness seems to, at points, stall the severity of the situation at hand and any potentially lasting negative consequences for the on-screen characters, though maybe it fits with the character of the movie. Juno is indicative of the “indie” kids, and it’s evident in everything from dialog (Juno’s signal to her father that she is going into labor is “Thundercats are go!”) to recognition of class opposites such as the bland and supressive IKEA-decorated Loring house. Those who continue to cling to nostalgic pop culture and approach more personal subjects like marriage, families, sex, relationships, and child-rearing with just as much cynicism, disdain, or simply indifference, if not more so. So of course, even the taboo story of teens having casual sex and getting pregnant have to be loaded with television references and shoulder-shrugging irony.
There is even room for neat, smile-raising resolutions by the film’s end, and by the final changing of the seasons which mark the new chapters of Juno’s life, Kimya Dawson’s melodic “Tire Swing” is sung by Cera and Page. A momentary, lesson-learning interruption of otherwise routine life, passes. And yet, seemed strangely comfortable almost entirely throughout.
Filed under: after the 90s, bring on the kleenex, comedy, commentary, cult flicks and obscure picks, indie, reviews | Tagged: commentary, Diablo Cody, Ellen Page, generational, indie kids, indie movie, Jason Reitman, Juno, Kimya Dawson, Michael Cera, quirky, review, teenage pregnancy, tire swing | Leave a comment »