Imagine Sixteen Candles if Molly Ringwald had picked Duckie over Blaine. Imagine a movie where the doofus gets the girl… because the girl wants the doofus. That’s Juno. And that ain’t the half of it. Juno contains the best role for a woman in an American movie for twenty years. If I were an actress over 21…if I were any actress but Ellen Page, I’d be livid. Because Juno MacGuff is a female Holden Caulfield, only spunkier, and pregnant. It’s so insanely rare that women get to play anything but hookers and killers in American movies, to have a character who: a) gets the best lines, b) makes mistakes, c) fixes her mistakes, and d) has a vagina – is amazing.
Juno tells a story that’s been told before, often, but Juno tells it perfectly. A teenage girl gets pregnant. So far, so Knocked Up. If Judd Apatow were writing this… hell, if any guy was writing this, this movie would focus on the guy. Or worse, the girl would be who “the girl” always is: the doormat. But Juno craps on movies like Knocked Up. For starters, there is no “girl” part in Juno; there is Juno’s part, which is whole. Juno MacGuff is by turns: sarcastic, naïve, selfless, helpless, wrong-headed and noble. She is the girl who wants the doofus, the girl who gets turned-on by scrawny legs and fastidiousness. She’s Mrs. Robinson, age 16.
Ellen Page must have shit a brick when she read the script. This is a star-making part, and then some. To think that most actresses have to get by on “I just wanna know if he’s OKAYYYYY!” (like Reese Witherspoon in Rendition). To have a role that doesn’t depend on Making a Scene. This isn’t a role that anyone could play. Juno cries once, but the point of her crying isn’t her crying, it’s what she does next. And Page makes you believe in Juno’s choices. She can change her mind without Acting. There isn’t a single thing she says or does that you don’t believe. Juno could have been a smart-ass in other hands, or worse – a saint. But Page has a way with sarcasm that takes away its artifice. Her Juno isn’t a point-scorer, she’s a kind heart made hip.
As Juno’s boyfriend, Michael Cera plays the same guy he did in Superbad, only luckier. He’s the geek who gets the girl, and for once the girl has more going for her than tits. Cera looks like he knows he’s hit the jackpot (thankfully) and he does “crushed” like his ribcage had just collapsed. He’s tall for a puppy-dog, but it doesn’t lend him a discordant stature. He’s a guy who seems to be comfortable in the background, but he steps up when he needs to, to let Juno know she’s been “mean”.
As Juno’s parents, J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney are the kind of parents you’d want Juno (scratch that… want yourself) to have. They know who their daughter is, and what a 16-year-old knows and doesn’t know. They don’t burden Juno with their wisdom when it isn’t asked for, but they’re there for her when the world startles the poor kid. The great virtue of Juno is that it doesn’t say anyone is smarter than anyone else in figuring out the world. It doesn’t even say becoming a parent makes you grow up. It’s just that 50 is a lot more grown-up than 16, no matter how precocious Juno is.
Instant classics make my palms sweat. As a general rule, “instant classic” denotes Knocked Up (what was it with critics and that movie?) If you saw Knocked Up, or watched Superbad recently and thought – ’sokay; Juno is for you. Because you’re tired of disappointment. And Juno doesn’t disappoint. It is every bit as good as if Hal Ashby had made it. Ellen Page is every bit as good as Reese and Julia ain’t. Juno has heart, but it isn’t sickly. It has laughs, but they’re never crude. You will will Bleeker and Juno to be together as much as any couple you ever rooted for. And you’ll shed a tear, too, you big sap. This is a movie that generations will grow to love.