Everybody knows the story but I'll rattle it off to you anyway, an acerbic teen, Juno, Ellen Page, gets pregnant by her longtime boyfriend Paulie, Michael Cera, then considers getting an abortion and then adoption. She has a loving Father, J. K. Simmons, and an understanding Stepmother, Allison Janney, and finds a kindred spirit in the potential adoptive Father of her child, Jason Bateman, whilst clashing with his wife, Jennifer Garner. Her friendship with Leah, Olivia Thirlby, also suffers under the weight of her pregnancy which emotionally distances her from those around her.
Diablo Cody won Best Original Screenplay in her feature film screenwriting debut and she earned it with the style that would become her signature on full display. The witty prose that Ellen Page delivers has a snap to it that isn't found in other coming-of-age films like Now and Then (1995) as she describes everything from her hamburger phone to the insecurities that teenagers face everyday in her tellingly self-deprecating way. In particular the treatment of Garner's character Vanessa shows a sensitive, intelligent script as the protagonist's view of a woman whom she saw as uptight and difficult morphs as she begins to understand what taking on responsibility means. In a lesser screenplay this shift in perspective could have felt jarring but here it is touching and helps us understands Juno's character development.
The capturing of unique characters and relationships is wonderful overall with the depiction of teenage love and the difficulty of having a step-parent portrayed with a delicate touch that belies how much the film cares about it's characters. The scene in which Juno and Paulie are seen conceiving the child that will be the central problem of the film is beautiful because it is not aggressively awkward or overly sexualized it is sweet and gives us a real sense of how much these teenagers care about each other. When she tells him "Do you know how long I've waited for this?", we see the character be vulnerable for once in the film and their love and sexual desire for one another is made clear. Her relationship with her Stepmother also feels real as there is initial tension between them that is eventually cut as they work together to get Juno through her difficult pregnancy. Janney plays a role that she can practically phone in at this point, she's been doing it since the late 1980s, but she has an ability to be a softie with a tough exterior like few actresses and she really works in this role.
In terms of Reitman's career this really launched him as an up-and-coming director after the positive critical reception to Thank You For Smoking (2005) and a polite box office haul of $39.3 million on a $10 million budget this film's stratospheric success put him in another league. It earned $231.4 million on a $7.5 million budget and earned 4 Academy Award nominations for it's screenplay, Page's lead performance, Reitman's direction and a nomination for Best Picture, only the screenplay would win in it's category but the message was clear: Reitman was one of the most popular new independent film director. He would further his status as an awards favorite with Up in the Air (2009) but this is the film that first made him wildly popular and I believe that this critical praise is deserved.
This is definitely a film that deserves a viewing if you want a surprisingly nuanced coming-of-age tale that contains great writing and performances and brought Reitman to the mainstream. I loved it in a way that many do and it is a film that speaks to most audiences, not just vulnerable teenagers, through it's poignant but funny tone. This is one of his best and possibly his most famous but in my opinion it does not equal Young Adult (2011).