The bourgeois appeal of the American "indie film" (e.g. Little Miss Sunshine) didn't bode well for the insular prospect of Juno. But it's a sharper movie than its trailer indicates—capable of real sincerity, especially when it doesn't push for it.
Sixteen-year-old Juno (Ellen Page) responds to her father's putdown that he never thought she'd be the type of girl to get pregnant with, "I don't know what kind of girl I am."
Page and screenwriter Diablo Cody depict a teenager who's more than the comfortable go-to movie social types. Juno's awareness of Italian horror director Dario Argento and ability to joint-reference Thundercats and Thunderbirds are believable precisely because she's not meant to be seen as an average kid. But it's Cody's habit of using pop references and antiquated expressions as punchlines, and her failure to differentiate the way different characters speak, that keep much of the script stuck at a Kevin Smith level.
When adoptive mom-to-be Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) touches Juno's belly at a mall, we're meant to see her humanity, as her plastic facade melts. But it's a completely telegraphed moment: I don't feel it, because the movie doesn't feel it. It's more comfortable with the honest interplay between Juno and her gruff but caring parents.
Page's great performance is absolutely worth its hype, giving naturalism to lines of dialogue most actors couldn't make sense of, and giving Juno's oddball traits a familiarity. There's no way to completely override Cody's self-conscious cleverness, though. Juno is more about its screenwriter than its characters.
And that's a problem.