Wayback Wednesday: Juno (2007)

If anyone knows where I can get that burger phone, message me ASAP.  

What better way to celebrate Canada Day than with a movie that’s directed by a Canadian, stars two Canadian leads, and is filmed entirely in British Columbia? It even had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival! The level of success that followed Juno (2007) is really unprecedented for a movie of its kind. Who would have thought that this $7 million, independent, coming-of-age dramedy would go on to earn over $230 million, receive numerous Academy Award nominations, garner rave reviews, and become one of the most beloved teen movies of our generation? Is this maybe one of the most acclaimed Canadian movies ever made? It’s definitely the first one that comes to mind when I think of great Canadian movies. Okay, that and X-Men (2000). I still can’t go by Casa Loma without thinking of that movie.

Screen Shot 2020-06-29 at 10.18.35 PM
Credit: imdb.com / Fox Searchlight Pictures

Juno follows the titular character, a quirky, 16-year-old high-schooler whose life becomes increasingly more complicated when she discovers that she’s pregnant. Choosing to give the baby up for adoption, Juno endures all the challenges of a teenage pregnancy. As her life changes in unimaginable ways, Juno comes to learn the difference between growing up, and being an adult.

I think that the term “coming-of-age” is often attached to any movie starring a teenage protagonist in the hopes of making the story seem more deep or meaningful than it actually is. With Juno, however, it’s a description that feels thoroughly appropriate. During the 90 minute runtime you really see Juno grow from a carefree hipster, into a young woman who experiences societal prejudice over her teenage pregnancy, the frustrating mystery of first love, and the sudden shattering of a failed marriage. As the story unfolds over the course of a year (a simple writing technique I inexplicably adore) she endures it all with her trademark wit, as well as a vulnerability and maturity that her character didn’t have at the beginning of the movie. I’m always drawn to movies that take their protagonists on a journey so that they finish the story in a different place emotionally than where they started. Juno accomplishes this spectacularly and it’s all thanks to the great writing of Diablo Cody.

Watching Juno, I needed a dictionary, a thesaurus, and an encyclopedic knowledge of indie rock music from 1977 – 2007 just to keep up with the rapid-fire dialogue. Cody is a phenomenal screenwriter. She has such a gift for creating a dialect for this movie that is so distinct, and unlike and other movie I’ve seen. The dialogue is so slick, so smart, and so full of pop culture references, that it’s practically its own language. I remember the first few times I watched this movie I found the style of writing to be too aggressively quirky, but now I totally appreciate it for how unique it is. Sure, nothing out of the mouths of these characters sounds like anything any real person would say, but it’s still incredibly charming and whimsical, and keeps you hanging on every word with anticipation. Also, hello, it’s super fucking quotable: “In my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think the sun shines out your ass. That’s the kind of person that’s worth sticking with.”

No wonder Juno won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay!

Of course, it also helps that Cody’s story is fast-moving, relatable, and chock-full of heart and humour. Clear, concise, and captivating, it’s impossible not to be invested in Juno’s story and see how she’s going to handle all that’s thrown at her. Cody and Jason Reitman, the director, do a fantastic job of first establishing Juno’s character, and then as the movie forces her to grow, developing her character and allowing her to grow as well. Whether it’s through visual storytelling or the brilliant writing, you can feel yourself going through everything Juno does, almost like you’re growing alongside her. I think growth and maturity are the hallmarks of Juno. They’re powerful sentiments that are present in the writing, the direction, and the performances.

Juno stars well-established actors like Michael Cera, J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Allison Janney, and Jason Bateman. So, in 2007, it was surprising that Ellen Page, who was then best known for a small part in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), was given the lead role. 13 years later, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing Juno MacGuff. Page TRANSFORMS into Juno. Every movement, every facial expression, every act of defiance, music reference, or perfectly curated sentence, sounds and feels like she’s been doing it since she was born. Her comedic timing, charisma, and formidable acting chops ensure she’s a protagonist you can’t get enough of. It’s not often that an actress really embodies the essence of a character, but Page undoubtedly does so. What’s even better is that she makes it look so effortless! This is just an all-around remarkable performance. In fact, I’d say the only downside to watching Page, is that so many of her scenes are with Cera, who plays her love interest, Paulie Bleeker. For me, their love story is the least interesting part of the movie to me. The pair have good chemistry, but he doesn’t give me much emotionally. Then again, that’s kind of his whole brand isn’t it? Monotone and low-energy?

You know who gives me everything though? Simmons and Janney as Juno’s father and stepmother, Mac and Bren. Behind Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci in Easy A (2010) – check out my review, here – these two are some of my favourite movie parents. Levelheaded, loving, wise, and supportive, these two are awesome. Oh, and unafraid to read a bitch and stand up for their daughter in every way a parent can? We love to see it! Speaking of love, Garner as Vanessa, is radiant in this movie. She exudes beauty, light, and unconditional maternal love. She lights up each scene she’s in and puts you firmly on her side, hoping that everything will work out for Vanessa. Especially when you see what a douche her husband Mark, Bateman’s character, is. It’s such a layered performance from Bateman that’s cool to witness. He presents himself to be the perfect husband, but on the inside, marital responsibility is the furthest thing from his mind.

Ugh, as soon as we’re introduced to him, you can tell from the look on his face that he’s not ready to be a father and that he and Vanessa are only adopting as a way to save their crumbling marriage. Garner and Bateman are able to tell the whole story of their relationship with only a few tense expressions and fraught conversations which is stunning. This movie is wonderful at handling heavy emotional moments with nuance and subtlety, slipping in realistic drama amid all the clever comedy and quick-fire jokes. It’s a balancing act for sure, but Juno pulls it off.

There’s so much to appreciate about Juno, both as an artistic piece of cinema, and the impact it’s had on an entire generation of moviegoers. It’s a moving little movie about motherhood, family, growing, and embracing the unexpected hardships that life will inevitably throw your way. I feel like I’ve seen this movie 8,000 times but you know what? It’s time for 8,001. Seriously. I JUST watched this movie but now I feel like watching it again after writing this review. Now THAT’S the power of a well-executed movie.

Are you a fan of Juno? What are your favourite Canadian movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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