If not an advert for life after love and a belief in the universe of second chances, “Juno,” the 2007 epitome of indie, is a stalwart defender of orange tic-tac aphrodisiacs, color-safe bleach and the idea that, to the question of belonging, there’s not one answer that fits everyone. Centered around 16-and-pregnant Juno (Ellen Page, “Flatliners”), Diablo Cody (“Tully”)’s script aims at evaluating a few particular cross-sections of modern (white) American life, pulling the poignancy of the film out of the thin intersections between them. Just about every important character in the film is a part of a romantic couple, each binary pair mired with their own setbacks and emotional deficiencies.
The juxtaposition of these couples is the heart and soul of this coming-of-age spectacle, specifically how one character’s hoard of life-experience versus another character’s dearth can change how each of them responds to a certain situation. It’s fantastic writing, and for once a Best Original Screenplay winner that isn’t masochistically sad. Now, without reducing the girl-power of this female-written, female-starring teen-pregnancy-flick, I want to bring to the forefront of the conversation the men in the proverbial overly knick-knacked Minnesota living room.
Cody’s excellence with the pen can be seen in just these three characters alone, the three father figures almost as different as they could be, however fundamentally linked. Juno’s father Mac MacGuff (J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”) is on his second of two marriages, content in his new life, though inexorably linked to his ruinous first attempt. Mark Loring (Jason Bateman, “Horrible Bosses 2”) is a dream-chasing, middle-aged man who believes he has not chased his rock-star aspirations far enough. Feeling unfit for the suburbs, he comes to question all that had brought him there in the first place. And at the head of this paternal Cerberus, the most biologically potent of AP chem students, the cross-country runner batting 1000 from downtown, gold-shorts Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, “Superbad”) himself — a geeky high-school junior who must deal with the fact that he’s impregnated his gregarious best friend (and that he’s also in love with her).
Cera plays the most pivotal role of the three fathers in the movie. Complete with all the awkward, endearing charm he has brought throughout his career, Cera plays Page’s more timid opposite — the more reserved, simpler one of the two, whose wholesome honesty with Juno is able to bring her back around in the end. Cera has played these types of characters before — his style as an actor is the perfect counterpart to the standard, precocious to the point of annoyance, a role that a lot of young actors/actresses bring to the table. Cera’s characters are always approachable, because, for better or for worse, there’s not much intimidating about him. I think in a slightly skewed way, Cera’s late 2000s run can find an analog in Adam Driver’s recent success. Both are actors who play a perfect “everyman” — solid performers who don’t look like traditional movie stars, and who are able to peel back a layer of ego to bring roles down-to-earth. Of course, this type of character, this type of actor, isn’t going to find their way into every big role in every big-budget movie. Their niche is, for better or for worse, in the types of heartfelt indie projects that come out of individual creative minds like Cody’s. They’re the Alfonso Gomez-Rejons and Bo Burnhams of the world, directors who can pick out talent that turns characters into real people on screen. And at least to me, there can never be enough of them.