“Juno” aspires to be this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” It succeeds in the respect that it’s charming, offbeat and nominated for awards. It fails, however, in being anything more than really “cute,” which is pleasant to watch but not particularly memorable.
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page, “X-Men: The Last Stand”) is 16 and “her eggo is preggo,” as a local clerk puts it. The father is Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, “Superbad”), her cross country-running and baby-faced best friend. After being turned off by the goth receptionist and strawberry-flavored condoms at the abortion clinic, Juno decides to have the kid and give it away to someone who wants it.
The potential parents she finds are Mark and Vanessa Loring, two yuppie suburbanites who can’t conceive a child on their own. Mark (Jason Bateman, “The Kingdom”) writes commercial jingles but is a rocker at heart, and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner, “Elektra”) is heartbroken and desperately longing to be a mother.
As Juno, Page is quirky and frank, sometimes annoying, but mostly a sympathetic lead. Cera, who plays her best friend/boyfriend has the skill to make anything coming out of his mouth sound absolutely adorable. They make quite a pair, even if they’re not together through much of the film.
The most shocking part – in a film that you don’t expect to be shocked – is the extremely creepy pedophilia vibe between Juno and Mark. Clearly not ready to grow up yet, Mark bonds with Juno through music and slasher movies. This starts out perfectly innocent, but quickly turns bizarre during a certain slow dance in a back room, which surely elicits audible gasps and cries of uneasiness from the audience.
The obvious comparison everyone wants to draw to “Juno” is with “Knocked Up,” and it’s quite a leap to make. Despite having “unwanted pregnancy” as a theme, the two films have little else in common. They explore two different aspects of the situation. One having to do with raising the child together, the other with giving it away. “Knocked Up” does this in signature Judd Apatow style – fart jokes and sex talk – while “Juno” is more toned down, using silent moments of awkwardness and words like “wiener.”
The soundtrack is worth mentioning here because some are comparing it to the likes of the “Garden State” album that graced many hipsters’ iPods for a long time. Featuring The Kinks, Belle & Sebastian and The Velvet Underground, it soars at times, though others may claim some tracks sound like a producer gave a 12-year-old a guitar and told him to make up a song on the spot.
That debate aside, “Juno” is a good film. Not the classic hit it could have been, but enjoyable nonetheless. An indie comedy with perhaps too much heart, it’s a welcome anomaly in a year of comedies characterized by the likes of Apatow’s films.
3.5 out of 5 stars
At Quality 16 and Showcase