Bright, original, and ceaselessly entertaining, Juno is the best movie of its kind to come out in years. This is quite a feat considering that the 2000s has seen its share of funny but poignant comedy dramas with lo-fi indie soundtracks, and most of them were really good. So it's not as though Juno is satisfying and enjoyable just because it's a breath of fresh air, or because it shuffles off the text-book constraints of the traditional comedy or drama. Movies like Thumbsucker and Me and You and Everyone We Know have already set the precedent for telling hearteningly unfiltered human stories with honesty and quirkiness. No, what Juno achieves goes above and beyond these exploits. Utilizing the groundwork laid by its predecessors, it handles subject matter that's even slipperier, but it's a hundred times more accessible. Juno strikes an impossibly perfect balance between biting wit, brutal honesty, and unapologetic optimism.
So how does a movie about a high-school junior who gets pregnant by her best friend and decides to give her baby up for adoption come to be this intelligent, sweet, and thoroughly watchable? Maybe it's alchemy. Many great movies reach their particular brand of excellence by way of that intangible chemistry between the actors and filmmakers that makes whatever they come up with so much greater than the sum of its parts. The only problem is that it's hard to gauge just how big of a role chemistry plays in the greatness of a film when all the participants do their jobs perfectly.
Hyperbolic but true: this is the movie these people were born to make. Every actor in Juno is playing relatively within type, but none of them fall back on clichés or rely on habit. Even Michael Cera, who's certainly played the shy kid in Superbad and on Arrested Development, tries something subtly new in Juno as Bleeker, the titular character's best friend and unlikely baby-daddy. At first glance, it might look like Cera's delivering his same old familiar brand of awkwardness, but reading between his lines even the littlest bit reveals that Bleeker's stammering comes from a totally different place. He's organic and distinct and, despite Cera's strange but ever-present charm, very real. This phenomenon comes into play again and again as each actor appears on screen, so that what you end up with for each performer isn't typecasting, but a seamlessly natural fit. It goes indubitably for Ellen Page, who stars as pregnant 16 year old and unwitting iconoclast Juno. Her frequent sarcastic banter evokes Juno's peculiar resilience, but never whitewashes the character -- or the film -- into glib superficiality.
Far from it. Juno is remarkable in just how consistently funny -- belly laugh funny -- it remains from beginning to end, while somehow, at the same time, showing such tremendous heart. And not just sugary, cloying heart but real, center of the human body, life-sustaining heart. This, of course, owes largely to first time screenwriter Diablo Cody, whose script is unendingly delightful without ever betraying the seriousness of what her characters are dealing with. As a result, the finished product combines raw, real life messiness with the kind of creativity and hope that only the best movies can give us.