Just to get this out of the way before we get started, I did indeed like "Juno" at least as much as I expected to, so now bear with me while I explain why.
The surprising key to making this overly familiar story seem so new (along with the simply remarkable Ellen Page) was the music, which not only gives it a feel-good vibe from the outset, but also sets the tone for exactly what screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman have accomplished here. Like the songs of Kimya Dawson that dominate the infectious soundtrack, "Juno" traffics in the realm of the precious, teetering on the brink of being too cute and too hip for its own good but never quite falling over the edge. And it's music, in the form of a very important truth about Sonic Youth (which Juno learns much earlier in life than I did), that's the funniest life lesson learned in this very smart flick.
And the dialogue by blogger-turned-screenwriter Cody creates a kind of music of its own, devoid of the pop-culture crutches that populate most hipster movies but sure to leave a new wave of catchphrases in its wake. Of all the jokes, the one that had me laughing the hardest was a simple one about the name of Juno's younger sister, which you won't hear from me (but think about her age and her name, and I guarantee you'll laugh loud enough to startle whoever's sitting beside you.)
The template here will be clear early on, because what Cody and Reitman have essentially done is make a John Hughes movie for the 21st century (and yes, along with being "up the pole," Page's Juno does also become obsessed about who her baby's daddy, veryfunnyman Michael Cera, is going to take to the prom.)
Though Jason Reitman (son of Ivan and director of 2005's "Thank You for Smoking") mostly stays out of the way and lets Cody and Page dominate the flick, he does put his stamp on one key scene. As our heroine briefly considers having an abortion in one of the movie's best scenes, he makes it clear just how much this is a scared and still-young girl having to make a decision she's definitely not ready for.
And young Ellen Page, who is in just about every frame of this cautionary tale (or, as Juno puts it, "cautionary whale"), completely sells you on the character of Juno, who acts much more confident than she really is. Michael Cera, given the very funny moniker "Bleek," does his best as the straight man once again (and the young man who happens to impregnate Juno), but this is definitely her show. Of the supporting players, Jason Bateman and J.K. Simmons were very funny, but this is a women's show from the start, and Allison Janney and Jennifer Garner both outshine their male counterparts, especially Janney as Juno's tart-tongued stepmother.
It is kind of disturbing that, though I have no babies of my own crawling around, I can now declare two of my favorite movies (this one and "The Snapper") are about pregnancy. I guess it's just such a bizarrely human event that no matter how much quirk you pile on top, and Cody does lay it on pretty thick here, you can still with the right touch make a movie that connects with viewers of all kinds.
And just so this isn't a complete love letter to the makers of "Juno," I do have one quibble/warning to share. Anyone who's seen the trailer and is looking forward to seeing Rainn Wilson, be advised that he only appears in one scene at the very beginning, and all his best lines have already been revealed in the trailer.
And, in the interest of full disclosure, Fox Searchlight did provide these rather nifty "Juno" t-shirts after the screening. You'll just have to take my word for it that I would have given this such a glowing review even without this surprise bit of bright orange swag. Peace out.