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Juno (Jason Reitman, 2007)

That Jason Reitman’s sassy, ludicrous teen-pregnancy sitcom Juno has been heralded for its realistic portrayal of a teen girl’s point of view demonstrates how poorly the demographic has been represented on screen. The titular character, embodied with no surfeit of spunk by young actress Ellen Page, exudes an otherworldly level of self-sufficiency and glib wit. What little “indie” sensibility this film has comes from its usual point of view toward its main character. Taking what should be, by classical Hollywood standards, an underdog, and then launching her into an offensive against any would-be detractors from frame one, the movie is aggressive in its promotion of the outré. What is curious, then, is the way that screenwriter Diablo Cody’s too-hip script surrounds her spunky little heroine with a supporting cast of entirely supportive individuals. No one gives Juno much more than minor trouble for her major digression. Disappointment, at best, manifests itself in-between one-liners. The effect of this virtual love-in is disorienting. There’s little drama present in this inherently dramatic situation. The stench of self-satisfaction, and worse yet sycophancy, begins to hang in the air. At times presenting itself as a chronicle of a young girl’s efforts to search deep within herself, Juno really only wants to congratulate us for being open-minded enough to love it.

The film finds few crowd-pleasing buttons it can resist pressing. Everyone in the unflappable Juno’s path is reduced to the butt of a cheap wisecrack, and little effort is made to explain that she might be wrong in her assessment. She’s shown namechecking “cool” bands and underground movies in an effort to show how edgy and different she is (a tendency that the irritating indie-pop soundtrack is all too happy to mirror). Perhaps most shamelessly of all, Juno finally rejects its too-cool posturing to indulge itself in weepy reconciliations. It preaches empathy, but on its bewildering own terms. In the last scenes of Juno, it doesn’t feel as if a snarky defense mechanism has come crashing down, but rather that one brand of phoniness has been supplanted by another. One can’t rightfully accuse the filmmakers of betraying the cast, but they have swapped condescension toward the characters for condescension toward the audience, which is arguably a more egregious cinematic sin.


Jeremy Heilman