When I first heard of the film Juno, it was only in the context of it having had a stronger opening weekend than Aliens vs. Predator. A closer look revealed a familiar cast: Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, who so effectively played father-and-son on the abortive television series Arrested Development.
Though these two actors justify seeing Juno, it is the plot and titular character that warrant its box office success. In concept, Juno is very similar to the 2004 film Saved!: a teenage girl with an unplanned pregnancy must live with her decision to have the baby. But the differences between the two films are both subtle and powerful. Saved! is set in a private Catholic school, where perception and judgment are almost physical in their reality and impact. Can a woman who has sex out of wedlock be considered a good person? Is such an act justifiable — not only to her peers, but to herself? Who are her true friends: those who guided her along the path of Christianity, or those who accept her when she strays?
Both Saved! and Juno deal with relationships, but Juno occurs in a more accepting environment. Juno's predicament is almost entirely accepted by her peers and guardians, leaving her to deal with the people it brings her closer to: her parents, the child's adoptive parents, and the child's father. Looking through the classifieds, Juno finds Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, an apparently perfect couple unable to have their own children. But the arrival of not only a child, but also its mother, into this couple's life brings to surface issues all three didn't realize were beneath the surface — while Michael Cera, the father of Juno's child, is left on the sidelines, confused by what his role should be to either his offspring or its mother. (As you may know from Arrested Development, "confused" is an emotion Cera plays well.)
Juno is a clever comedy, due primarily to the witty repartee of Ellen Page (X-Men 3) as Juno. She has a casual way of speaking her mind, using unpredictably creative metaphors, making others uncomfortable. Juno handles herself with surprising maturity and decisiveness — but when confronted with the unexpected, the scared 16-year-old peeks out. Her relationships are complex, one that made me fidget in my seat even more than Blue Car did. Juno's fetus is the impetus, not the focus, of the whirlwind of emotions that are bewildering to so many.
Page and Cera as parents-to-be, Garner and Bateman as parents-who-can't, and JK Simmons (Spider-Man) and Allison Janney (The West Wing) as Juno's parents-who-are each turn in lively and nuanced performances, making Juno a film unquestionably better than Aliens vs. Predator. How's that for a recommendation?