Just saw this movie (about a 16-year-old named Juno who gets pregnant and puts the baby up for adoption, if you missed the hype.) It’s not bad; the dialogue is snappy, and the star (Ellen Page) is appealing — she refers to her the effect of her very pregnant presence at school as that of a “cautionary whale” for example. And there are lots of nice moments — at the hospital when she’s about to give birth, for example, Juno begs her step-mom to get her a spinal tap to offset the labor pains. Her step mom (Alison Janey) calls out exasperatedly for a nurse, and in doing so refers to Juno as “my daughter.” It’s a nice moment, emphasizing the movie’s insistence that parenthood is more about love and commitment than it is about biology.
Overall though…I guess the basic problem can be summed up as sit-com quirkiness. Indeed, the movie is insistently, almost desperately quirky; everyone is always spouting pithy one-liners and engaging in telling, charming idiosyncracies (Juno’s boyfriend pops orange breath mints, for example; Juno’s step-mom loves dogs, etc. etc.) But if you look a little closer, those idiosyncracies are mostly deployed in the interest of covering up fairly banal insights and familiar characters. The working class, clueless, but loving dad; the slightly nerdy boyfriend; the teasing dependable best friend…where have I seen this all before?
Worst of all is the adoptive yuppy couple. Vanessa [Jennifer Garner] is uptight and wants a baby. That’s pretty much all there is to her; she’s the quintessential modern woman, striving for the one thing all her success has denied her…motherhood. Over the course of the movie she becomes more sympathetic…but never because she acts or behaves differently, really. Her quest for motherhood is just seen as more and more sincere and worthwhile as we go along. Indeed, you never learn anything about her except that she wants a baby. She never gets any quirky lines, never is blessed with quirky habits; never seems anything but completely uptight. Part of the problem is Jennifer Garner, who is about as responsive as a stick…but the script gives her little to do in any case.
Even worse is Jason Bateman as Mark. Like Garner, Bateman is a dull fish, playing uptight and suburban as unexpressive and flat. He’s also a caricature in any case; a formerly cool musician (he opened for the Melvins!) who now writes advertising jingles, he initially seems kind of cool, and then pitiful and icky as he makes a semi-pass at Juno. Again…where have we seen this before, I wonder? Guys who like rock music must be stunted men-children afraid of grown-up commitment. Also, they want kids less than women do. Who knew?
And then, at the end, we learn it’s all not really a story about giving up your baby for adoption so much as it’s a story about finding your true love. We’re in a John Hughes movie after all. It’s good to know that, even though the man himself is gone, his spirit lives on.