Ellen Paige (who I loved in Hard Candy) is perfectly cast in this movie: alternately snarky and sad, her teenage heroine navigates relationships and identity formation with an appealing down to earth sense of humor. I only wish the film was as appealing to me.
It's certainly not everything the media hype about its writer Diablo Cody would have you believe. It's not the feminist (or feminine) "answer" to Judd Apatow's recent hit comedies. It's not the smartest movie about teenagers since John Hughes. And is Cody the best writer under age 35? She photographs well and has certainly seized the imaginations of a lot of journalists. But I'm waiting to see what she'll do next.
It's enjoyable, sure. I laughed. The audience I was with laughed a lot too. But it's cutesy-edgy, suffering from the mainstreaming of so-called "indie" attitude -- here signified by wordplay that is only semi-current, semi-funny, semi-successful. It's very hit or miss. The shorthand phrases instead of character development, the colors and camerawork, the clothing, the interior set design all scream at you: this is a film that wants to be like a bunch of other films (Little Miss Sunshine, Napoleon Dynamite, Garden State, etc). Now, imitation is flattery, and also smart marketing. So in and of itself, that's not the worst.
But even reading this as a fantasy movie (no less a fantasy because it doesn't involve wizards (although that is one of Juno's nicknames) it suffers from a lack of conflict: she has no serious struggle in deciding what to do about her pregnancy, and pregnancy itself operates as a kind of bodily fate. There's nothing really for her to do except wait to be done with it. Her parents are astoundingly mellow and supportive; and her boyfriend's parents somehow never find out. School is supposed to be tough on Juno, but that's never really shown to us, except in the occasional glances of students in the hallway. This is a fantasy world in which Juno's pregnant and allowed to stay in regular high school, is not physically or verbally harassed by other students or teachers, and has all the time in the world to flirt with inappropriate older married men. But even that situation is watered down so that it doesn't really constitute a conflict. So there's nothing for her to overcome, nowhere for her to grow, because the film presents Juno as already so wonderful that she just has to keep on keepin on, and wait to deliver the baby.
The sharks really started to circle, though, in a couple of painfully self-conscious and juvenile scenes that demonstrate the film's need to proclaim its coolness. It reminded me of the 13 year olds I used to supervise at summer camp. Who's cooler, Iggy Pop or Sonic Youth? Who the f* cares? I know I'm not the target demographic for this film -- but watching it was ultimately kind of tiresome. And I'm someone who likes the romantic comedy genre. Give me Some Kind of Wonderful or Valley Girl any day. Those movies have characters who develop and change; class and family conflicts; and awesome soundtracks that the characters don't feel the need to talk about, sing along to, or otherwise announce.