Strip away the stars, the celebrity and the red carpet capering and filmmaking can be, at heart, pretty boring. Action, cut, go again… editing, scoring, colour correcting… it’s an industry and cynicism can infect its creators and those who cover it. So, when an indie comedy scripted by an ex-stripper arrives, it’s manna from journo-heaven: ‘From pole-dance to Oscar podium!’ The headline writes itself.
Understandably, screenwriter Diablo Cody tired pretty quickly of the gutter-to-glory story delivered with a knowing nudge-nudge. And, after watching Juno again, you’ll realise how much more there is to this whipsmart yet sweet sleeper. Yes, it’s not hard to see how Cody’s outsider status and freedom of thought informed the teen-gives-away-tyke tale, but director Jason Reitman was unjustly neglected by both critics and the Academy. He is, as Cody tells us in one of the frothy featurettes and on the breezy commentary, the “master of tone”.
Juno could so easily have sunk amid self-conscious kook and sentimentality, but Reitman grounds the potentially silly set-up – up-duff teen offers sprog to yuppie parents – and stylised teen-speak in a sense of reality, due in part to inspired casting. Sure, Ellen Page had already delivered Hard Candy, but who knew JK Simmons could provide such tender wisdom? Or that Jennifer Garner could master such subtlety and pull of – on its own, character-based terms at least – an emotional twist as surprising as Se7en?
Then there’s Jason Bateman, as a frighteningly recognisable near middle-age man who’s trapped in memories of his lost youth, scared of potential impending fatherhood. It’s his scenes with Page – particularly the wince-extracting basement faux pas – that showcase just how savvy Reitman is behind the camera: he knows it takes two to tango but he doesn’t push the ugh-factor too far.
As Juno canters to its surprising conclusion, no one is left as a caricatured villain, the jokes are at no one’s expense – everyone has their reasons. It’s not just about the dialogue; honest to blog.