Sixteen-year-old schoolgirl Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) has just been given some news that has pulled her up short. She suspected this might be the case for a few weeks after having sex for the first time with her casual boyfriend Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), and that had been her idea, so she only has herself to blame. The three tests she has taken confirm it, and as she uses the convenience store bathroom for the third time and the news is unchanging, she verbally spars with the shop assistant (Rainn Wilson) who is accusing about her situation. There's no getting away from it: Juno is pregnant...
When this film became an Oscar-winning hit for screenwriter Diablo Cody, she found herself in the limelight, having not been an established name in the industry prior to this, and in fact had been a stripper, something that had not escaped the notice of the media who brought it up every time she was mentioned. This was a little uncomfortable, as if she was judged some kind of weird freak of nature, a stripper who had brains and had actually - gasp! - made a success of herself, but probably it was more to do with a streak of prurience the media had that was not going to go away any time soon. Then, of course, the backlash, as if she was now undeserving of her plaudits.
And yet, it's true that after half an hour of Juno, you may be finding her artificial at best, utterly offputting at worst, as the characters' mannered dialogue sounds more like movie movie talk than anything people in a situation that is meant to be true to life would actually say. You may start thinking to yourself, this is ridiculous, the girl acts like a forty-year-old pretending to be a teenager and besides, she doesn't come across as the type who'd be interested in boys anyway, no matter what heavy hints are dropped into the drama to the contrary. So if it's all too clever for its own good, then the naysayers were right, and Juno was far less than the sum of its parts, right?
Not necessarily, as once you got over the trepidation of that first half, something interesting happened that was both sincere and believable, more believable than what had gone before at any rate. Many got caught up in the film's apparent anti-abortion stance, as Juno decides she is too young to keep the baby and ventures out to an abortion clinic only to have second thoughts and see the pregnancy through to its natural end. She finds a young-ish couple, Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman), willing to adopt the child, and sees this as a better way to go forward as Bleeker is no one's idea of perfect father material, not at his stage of life anyway, and the couple are eager to provide for the infant.
But what Juno was really about is breaking up, and the question of whether romances come to an end as a matter of course, or if that can be prevented and happy unions are not the sole province of Hollywood movies. This being a Hollywood movie, Cody took the latter view, but was clear-eyed enough to acknowledge that no relationship was perfect and there was always going to be people who found themselves incompatible after that first flush of l'amour. Sad, but there you go, yet Juno has the optimism of youth that she and Bleeker can make something of their lives together, and sees no harm in trying even if the odds are against it at their age. She looks around her and understands that, for example, her parents are divorced and have remarried, and Vanessa and Mark might not be as content as they think they are, but the question remains, what have you got to lose? Apart from your dignity and your integrity, perhaps. Fitting for an indie quirkfest, the soundtrack is the same, and yes, there is Belle and Sebastian in there.