Juno is an outsider, but she's not a pariah. One of the cool guys in school has a crush on her. And she has friends, including a girl on the cheerleading squad. Moreover, the guy Juno gets involved with is a star middle-distance runner on the track team. Run though he can, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, who played a similar character in Superbad) won't be showing up in any studmuffin pictorials. As Mac MacGuff says when he learns Paulie is the father of Juno's fetus, 'I didn't know he had it in him." In short, Paulie is not a standard heartthrob. But Juno falls for his intelligence and his gentleness, and it is she who initiates the sex that gets them into trouble.
Page so thoroughly inhabits the character of Juno that it is impossible to imagine another actress in the role or the picture working without her. She has a distinctive deadpan voice, the vocal equivalent of the look on Buster Keaton's face. It is a worldly voice, one that communicates, whatever the subject, Juno's expectations that life is an experience of limited possibilities. What's wonderful in the performance is Page's ability to mix a determination to carry on with an attitude that approaches resignation. In the end, Juno is guardedly hopeful if, characteristically, never remotely chipper. Page will almost certainly be nominated for an Oscar, and if I had not already had my heart broken by Julie Christie's magnificence in Away from Her, I would root for Page. She's my strong second choice.
Apart from Page, the ingredient that makes Juno such a pleasurable movie-going experience is screenwriter Cody's refusal to settle for stock characters or plot solutions. A lesser writer would have turned Juno's parents into monsters. Instead, they are much like her. And isn't that appropriate since they have raised her. Juno's dad and stepmom Bren (the always excellent Allison Janney) take Juno's pregnancy in stride, leavening their concern and disappointment with effective humor. Bren remarks after hearing the bad news that she had been hoping the problem would be hard drugs, a comment that is both funny in the uttering and places Juno's situation in the proper comparative light. It's awful that she's let herself get pregnant, but it's not as bad as if she had adopted a behavior that could kill her.
Cody and director Reitman also handle Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) Loring with great skill. The Lorings want to adopt Juno's baby when she gives birth, and they, too, could have become stereotyped either as villains or as the potential victims of a girl just discovering herself. Again, instead, the script develops both characters into fully realized, appropriately complicated human beings. Who they are and how they are going to act provides much of the film's suspense, and their development is executed with great precision.
In sum, Juno is an unqualified winner, this year's Little Miss Sunshine. Don't miss it.