Dramatic comedy

  • Written by Diablo Cody
  • Directed by Jason Reitman

The last thing I expected before the year ended was a comedy about unintentional pregnancy that was more truthful, more insightful, and just plain funnier than Knocked Up. I found one. You could go to movies for years and not find anything as good as Juno.

Ellen Page plays the title character, a cynical, wise-cracking teenager whose insecurities ineffectively hide just below the surface. This is a girl who can’t hear the term “sexually active” without going into a monolog about the expression’s absurdity. The insecurities and absurdities get a lot worse when she gets pregnant from her very first sexual experience, and that with a guy whom she thinks of as just a friend.

Juno decides to carry the baby to term and let a young married couple adopt it. The couple had advertised their desire to adopt in the local advertiser; “Desperately seeking spawn” as Juno describes it.

No one’s free of emotional baggage here, and the more we get to know this couple, the more we worry that they’re not going to be particularly good parents. Not that there’s anything horribly wrong with them–screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman treat everyone as a decent human being trying to do what’s right. But the young wife (Jennifer Garner) has to control everything around her, and doesn’t really approve of her husband’s wilder side. And the husband (Mark Loring), while a warm, sweet, and fun guy, may not be ready for parenthood.

Juno has a good home, despite the fact that her mother deserted the family years ago. Her father (J.K. Simmons–playing a real human being for a change) clearly loves her and supports her. His wry commentary on everything tells us where Juno got her sense of humor (when told who got his daughter pregnant, he responds “I didn’t think he had it in him”). And his second wife–Juno’s stepmother–has clearly taken on mothering responsibilities. Her response to the pregnancy news is to discuss nutritional and medical issues.

For all it’s truth and realism, Juno still manages to find more than it’s share of laughs. It’s not Death at a Funeral funny, but it’s still funnier than most comedies out these days (or in older days), without ever moving into parody or farce, and never straining for laughs. Few films demonstrate better demonstrate that comedy, at its best, is simply truth with timing (although there’s nothing simple about that).

Like Romance and Cigarettes and Enchanted, Juno turns serious as it nears its conclusion. But this time, it works. By sticking close to reality, Juno earns the right to not be funny.