Actress Ellen Page won my heart in Hard Candy with her cruelty and unforgiving sadism, but here, in Jason Reitman’s latest attempt to mine the forced quirkiness that threatens to tear Hollywood apart, she’s gone soft in the middle, even if she’ll insist on ironic detachment throughout. Page is Juno, the sort of improbably articulate sixteen-year-old you won’t find in any corner of reality, but can’t help but trip over every time you suck it up and give the dying “independent” scene another chance. She’s dry, sarcastic, and full of well-timed quips and putdowns, but there isn’t an adolescent ounce of her that feels or sounds unscripted. As written by Diablo Cody, a grating personality I later encountered during an especially intolerable Q&A session (we walked out after her thirty-third “like”), Juno is bitter, rebellious, and a little untamed, but not so much that she won’t skip out of a scheduled abortion and look through the want-ads for a suitable set of adoptive parents (does anyone kill the fucking things anymore?). She finds them in Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner, whose face is mutating into Skeletor before our very eyes), a barren couple who live in a wealthy suburb, if for no other reason than to provide the young Reitman with a satiric opportunity that conveniently ignores his own alarmingly privileged upbringing. Strangely enough, though, husband and wife are relatively normal (one could easily imagine New Age hippies or humorless Stepford parents-to-be), though it stands to reason that the kid is seen as a band-aid for their dying marriage. It seems that he wants to rock out, man, and play in a band, while she’s the typical shrew who demands accountability and maturity from a man approaching his fortieth birthday. Guess who we’re supposed to root for?
Juno’s father and stepmother are also unsurprisingly inhabiting a fantasy world, as they are clever, quick, and forgiving to a fault. They exist to whip out one-liners by the bushel (and not care that their high school junior is having a baby), as in a scene in the doctor’s office, where the stepmom (Allison Janney) rips apart an ultra-sound tech with all the forced, populist rage that seems to be in fashion among those who don’t live the life. Not only was the tech quite right to applaud Juno’s decision to give the kid up for adoption, but if the procedure is as trivial as stepmom seems to suggest, perhaps the bitch would like to bring the fetus to term without the advances of modern science. Plug along, take your chances, and stay the fuck away when things go wrong. But that’s only a symptom of the movie’s major league issues. Page, channeling Christina Ricci’s turn in The Opposite of Sex as if her future depended on it, is a one-note smartass, and she has nowhere to go once she’s established her “type.” The dialogue is both artificial and flip, and is compounded by one of cinema’s most appalling soundtracks since Wes Anderson last bloodied our eardrums. Dig those lyrics, dude, so crazy and zany and, like, non-conformist! As the shit fills every other scene not nailed down with a hammer of hipness squared, it’s impossible to ignore, and we can’t help but think that everyone involved, including the suits that signed the checks, weren’t smiling with smug superiority every step of the way as they imagined releasing the year’s most raucous comedy. Try again.