A teenager coping with pregnancy needs a strong backbone so it's no wonder that director Jason Reitman cast Ellen Page as Juno. After her steely turn in Hard Candy (2006), the young actress carries the weight of this film with consummate ease and no small degree of charm. She cuts straight to the bone with scathingly sharp dialogue (scripted by professional blogger and ex-stripper Diablo Cody), but she also brings warmth and vulnerability to soften the edges.
Holding his own with Page is Superbad's Michael Cera doing his 'deer in the headlights' bit as the father of the baby. It's Juno who wears the trousers in this relationship (elasticised of course) and keeps him dangling whilst she tries to get a handle on her feelings. Aside from the hormonal rush, that process is further complicated by Juno's budding friendship with older man Mark (Jason Bateman) who plans to adopt the child with his sullen wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). He offers Juno refuge from sniggering schoolmates and anxious parents.
"DARING AND DEVASTATINGLY FUNNY"
It's daring and devastatingly funny, but Reitman doesn't rely purely on shock value for laughs. The unusual balance of power in Juno's relationship with the adoptive couple tickles the ribs more than her witty oneliners and also heightens the intrigue. When she struts into their tidy, squeaky-clean home and brashly states her terms - to "kick this old school" like "Moses and the reeds" - it only pops the tension for a moment before highlighting the couples' growing discomfort. Juno's loss of innocence doesn't hinge on having sex as much as it does on uncovering the truth behind these awkward silences. Still, whilst the gradual stripping down of each character is carefully done, the film isn't always credible. Juno's father (JK Simmons) is too glib to be taken seriously and the ending comes wrapped in impossibly cute bows. Except for this self-conscious indie branding, Reitman has delivered a bundle of joy.
Juno is out in the UK on 8th February 2008.