There’s a special kick that comes in finding a new star. So step up, Ellen Page, and take your bows. You won’t find a sass queen around who can touch Page as Juno MacGuff, a pregnant 16-year-old with a smart mouth that won’t quit. Page (Hard Candy) has the rare knack of being brutal and funny simultaneously. Her flow of quips and put-downs comes courtesy of debuting screenwriter Diablo Cody, another find. I’d also include director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, in the newbie box, for making such a cleanly executed, pungently comic job of it, but he’s an old hand, having directed Thank You for Smoking last year.
Here’s the thing about Juno: She says a lot, but not always what she means. Take her treatment of Paulie Bleeker (Superbad‘s Michael Cera), the geek who fathered her baby. Cera is a young Jedi master at low-key, but you can see he’s hurt when Juno casually rejects him. And watch Juno get all fake-certain when she tells her parents, hilariously rendered as non-fools by Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons, that she wants to give up her baby for adoption. She thinks rich Vanessa (Jennifer Garner, quite good) and her husband, Mark (Jason Bateman, quite disturbing), are ideal, until Mark — attracted by her Dario Argento-loving movie tastes — hits on her.
Is Juno sometimes too clever and facile for its own good? You got that right. But it’s also a hip and hilarious antidote to High School Musical goo. The devil in Cody’s script lets in wit, anger, distress and the pain of romantic longing. Juno is more than a few smiles — it makes you laugh deeply. It’s one from the bruised heart.