Juno marks the second film for director Jason Reitman and the first for screenwriter Diablo Cody, author of the Pussy Ranch blog, which, oddly, has nothing to do with baby kittens. Reitman made his debut with a swaggering adaptation of Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking, and he is said to have changed little in Cody's screenplay about a way-smart teen who's pregnant with a baby she's planning to give to a barren couple of yups. Word is, the final script isn't so different from the first draft, which is mighty impressive, once you get past the early-going rough patches. With the Kinks' "A Well-Respected Man" blaring on the soundtrack in the first 15 minutes, you're likely to get the indie-film shakes.
During its early moments, Juno threatens to choke on its quotation-marks catchphrases — like when The Office's Rainn Wilson, cameoing as a convenience-store clerk, tells Ellen Page's 16-year-old Juno MacGuff that her positive pregnancy test is "one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet." Or when Olivia Thirlby, as Juno's best cheerleading pal Leah, uses "Phuket, Thailand" as an expletive. Or when Juno describes the perfect adoptive parents as a "cool graphic designer, mid-thirties, with a cool Asian girlfriend, who totally rocks the bass — but I don't want to be too particular."
Our heroine also digs McSweeney's and Dario Argento's Suspiria. Arch? Argh, yes. But after a while, the movie calms down and finds its center — no, its heart. Indeed, once it works its way through the first-timer's lookatme! snark, Juno gradually evolves into a thing of beauty and grace.
I've seen Juno three times since its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and it only gets better with each viewing. The performances are so subtle that it takes a while to notice how terrific they all are. After three movies spent barking at Peter Parker from beneath a comic-book flattop, J.K. Simmons especially is a revelation. And Page, channeling Linda Cardellini's character on Freaks and Geeks, finds her way into — and past, way past — those early clever-clever lines, burrowing deep into Juno's skin till she finds her soul.