If Diablo Cody is the future of screenwriting, then I’ll bite down angrily on a cyanide pill now. I don’t want to live in a world where random “ThunderCats” references pass for wit.
Juno (Ellen Page, “Hard Candy”) is a scrappy, smart-aleck, 16-year-old Minneapolis high school student who has just found herself pregnant with dork Bleeker’s (Michael Cera) baby. Knowing she can’t possibly take care of a kid, Juno stumbles upon Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman), a couple looking to adopt. Excited about the match, Juno begins to interact with Mark on a social level, soon finding herself in dark psychological waters a girl her age can’t handle. As the baby develops, so does Juno’s maturity and perspective, leaving her with many predicaments to be solved before she gives birth.
“Juno” is a cartoon. It’s an inflated piece of filmmaking without any consideration of tone; it just floats out there on a rubber raft made of one-liners in a pool of cancerous indie comedy cred. Frankly, I couldn’t stand a minute of it.
I chalk up this lack of affection to the screenplay by scribe du jour Diablo Cody. The writer-turned-stripper-turned-blogger has made a name for herself with a droopy sense of humor, which runs along the lines of the “I Love the 90s” cable series, only stickier and intensely crowed with self-awareness. Cody is mesmerized by affected, stagy dialogue delivered in a rat-tat-tat style, which is fine for the average production, but when the lines consist primarily of lofty pop culture references and heavily considered mallrat gibberish (think the boozy secret language of twins, only thickly underlined), it forms a puddle of artistic poison that serves no purpose but to flamboyantly parade around the writer’s questionable gift for capturing self-aware alternateen lifestyle masturbation.
There are no characters in “Juno,” just various vessels for Cody’s self-conscious writing. The titular teen doesn’t have a heart, she has an attitude; she’s a Sunny-Delight-swilling one-liner machine who loves Dario Argento movies, the music of The Stooges and The Runaways, sucks on a pipe (oh, good lord), eats lunch in her high school’s trophy case, and is armed with an incisive, punk-puckered comeback for any situation. She’s sounds less like a Minnesota 16 year-old and more like a 29 year-old Los Angeles screenwriter having trouble relinquishing the entertainment value of her youth. Again, I submit the “ThunderCats” reference Juno makes when labor pains come knocking at her door.
Reality, or plausibility, wouldn’t be such an issue here if “Juno” didn’t struggle to humanize this cardboard character in the final reel. After 60 minutes watching Juno verbally limbo her way around town like a Hot Topic version of Dennis the Menace, I couldn’t believe my ears when Cody asked the viewer to show concern for Juno’s emotional state of the union, or any of the thinly-drawn personalities that clutter the film. It’s an enormous miscalculation on Cody’s part, exacerbated by Jason Reitman’s (“Thank You for Smoking”) submissive direction. The man hasn’t met a bit of obviousness that he didn’t love.
Then again, perhaps he was too busy trying to match Cody’s script with his own strained bits of quirk, also forgetting that suburban Minneapolis doesn’t have large Canadian mountain ranges or is situated in the 310 area code. Well, as long as there’s snow on the ground and someone has an “oh yahhhhh dontcha know” accent while wearing a turtleneck and small-town bangs, then that’ll do.
Now I know how southerners feel when watching “Deliverance.”
It seems the only character permitted a relatable crisis of conscious is Mark, nicely played by Jason Bateman, in the lone role of his career resurgence that doesn’t require a snarky attitude. Mark isn’t sure he wants a child, sucked into the vortex of Vanessa’s babyfever before he was comfortable with the idea. Of course Cody rewards this behavior by turning Mark into pathetically pouty lost boy incapable of growing up and giving him lecherous intentions with our pal Juno. Any complexity the script teased us with here is kicked like a football out of the movie.
Listen, I understand “Juno” will speak loud and proud to certain audiences out there who love the loop-de-loop ride of a comedy that lashes out in unexpected ways. That’s the design of Cody’s script, and that’s the result of the movie. However, the artificiality of this beast is suffocating, choking itself into a stupor of unlikable characters, synthetic emotions, bewildering locations, aggravating performances (Ellen Page, with her boundless affection for twitchy indication, has an epileptic Mary Hart effect on me), and overtly precious direction. “Juno” is pregnant alright: with overwrought execution and pedestrian intentions. But hey, Juno owns a hamburger phone! Let the hilarity begin.Rating: D-