At a 10th anniversary live read, the Oscar winner explains the movie's stance on abortion—and what actually inspired that stylized dialogue.|
by Jenna Marotta, published on April 9, 2017 - 2:48 PM
Saturday night in Los Angeles, seven female celebrities joined director Jason Reitman onstage to read the script of his most successful film, Juno, which turns 10 this December. The Planned Parenthood benefit (tickets ranged from $25 to $150 apiece) took place at The Theatre at Ace Hotel, a 1600-seat venue restored to its original 1920s grandeur.
Two actresses reprised their onscreen roles: Ellen Page, who earned one of the film’s four Oscar nominations for playing 16-year-old expectant Minnesotan Juno MacGuff, and Jennifer Garner, whose preppy, perfectionistic alter-ego, Vanessa Loring, eventually adopts Juno’s son. Page’s Whip It co-stars, Alia Shawkat and Kristen Wiig, were cast as their respective partners, Paulie Bleecker (previously Michael Cera) and Mark Loring (Jason Bateman; both men, like Shawkat, are Arrested Development veterans). Tig Notaro—who co-created her Amazon Prime series One Mississippi with Academy Award-winning Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody—replaced J.K. Simmons as Juno’s father, Mac, and his wife Bren was played by Black-ish Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross (taking over for Allison Janney). The final cast member—the sole name not announced in advanced—was Insecure’s Issa Rae as Juno’s confidant, Leah (previously Olivia Thirlby). Reitman read the stage directions.
During the five years preceding April 2016, Reitman hosted 40 cinematic live reads of as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Film Independent program. He concluded the series in order to concentrate on filmmaking—but as Entertainment Weekly reported last month, he decided to resuscitate the passion project post-election with a “resistance-inspired lineup.”
“Considering how much this election has done against women and what Planned Parenthood has done for women I thought it would be cool to hear the script with an all-female voice,” Reitman told EW (in the resulting show, the new administration and its members were not mentioned outright).
While the reading was a predictable triumph, the evening began with a pair of surprise performances from Juno’s platinum-selling soundtrack: Barry Louis Polisar sang the film’s unofficial theme, “All I Want Is You,” and Kimya Dawson—who sang six of the album’s tracks—serenaded with “Tire Swing.” Sue Dunlap, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, asked the three-storied crowd to literally stand-up for her century-old nonprofit, wondering, “If not now, when?”
Reitman admitted feeling “really emotional,” and took a moment to compose himself before introducing Cody, who was first encouraged to write the script when future Juno producer Mason Novick discovered her then-blog, “The Pussy Ranch.” According to Reitman, Cody studied the Ghostworld screenplay, then proceeded to write Juno in one month—from the cake-popped and mermaid-cupped confines of a Minnesota Target’s Starbucks. “Thank you for changing all of our lives with this movie,” he said.
The A-list readers did not rehearse in advance and veered off script only once. Near the halfway point, Page’s character explains that her name comes from Zeus’s wife in Greek mythology. “She was supposed to be really beautiful but really mean,” read Page, with relish. “Like Diana Ross.” Tracee Ellis Ross erupted at Reitman out of turn: “My God! You couldn’t cut it out for the reading? Seriously? That’s my mom for God’s sakes. Continue.” To which Reitman deadpanned, “Apparently, it’s genetic.”
But Ross wasn't done. “What, being really nice and talented?” she demanded, before saying that this line also stuck out when she saw the film alone in theaters: “I thought, Wait, why did you ruin this movie for me?” Reitman—son of Animal House and original Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman himself—immediately won back Ellis Ross: “I have no sympathy to the children of famous people, I’m sorry,” he said. Then the two feigned high-fives across their seatmates.
“I had felt bad about the Diana Ross line in that movie,” Cody told Vanity Fair at the event's after-party, held on the theatre’s mezzanine entryway. Pre-Juno, she said, celebrities seemed akin to “Westworld animatrons, where it’s like they don’t have feelings . . . I want to apologize.” When Reitman—her collaborator on the Charlize Theron-fronted films Young Adult (2011) and Tully (forthcoming in 2017)—first approached her about the reading, “I said, ‘Absolutely, you have my blessing, it sounds great.’ But internally I was panicking,” Cody added. She was “bracing [her]self for shame,” similar to “a slideshow of naked baby pictures.”
“I thought, Oh God, I have to sit in a huge theater full of people and listen to this script that I wrote when I was a 27-year-old knucklehead stripper,” continued Cody. She had not read the script or watched any clips since attending Juno's 2007 premiere.
Still, Cody continued, she was encouraged by the response the film still garnered in 2017—and that Ellen Page “would still give that amount of energy to this little character that I wrote for her a million years ago. That was special.” Page’s introduction and the film’s finale both earned standing ovations.
Cody—who was donning “peach” locks and “a fanny pack, work boots, and mom jeans,” she said, “because I got zero fucks left to give in my life”—went into detail with Vanity Fair about Juno’s practical inception. “The weird stylized dialogue was like the Trojan horse that I used to get that script read,” she said. In the late aughts, she explained, “Napoleon Dynamite was the successful indie movie. And I saw it, and I went, Okay, I’ll write something like that. But I’ll make Napoleon a girl.” Before it was produced, director Edgar Wright even dubbed her script Fallopian Dynamite.
Onstage, Cody revealed to the auditorium, “I actually tried to get a small role in this film when it was made, and I am such a bad actress [that] even this person”—eyeing Reitman—“who I think genuinely loves me was like, ‘No.’” She told Vanity Fair that she auditioned on tape to play the abortion clinic specialist who memorably offeres Juno boysenberry-flavored condoms, the same ones that “make [my boyfriend’s] balls smell like pie.”
Reitman made the right call, she said. Even so, one personal regret from the film has been “haunting her for years.”
“In a way I feel like I had a responsibility to maybe be more explicitly pro-choice, and I wasn’t,” Cody said. Although she also “never attempted to hide” her values, “I think I took the right to choose for granted at the time.”
“Something that’s disturbed me over the years is people perceiving Juno as an anti-choice movie,” she continued. “It was very healing for me tonight to have a representative from Planned Parenthood stand up there and say that she supported the narrative.” Ultimately, Juno’s decision not to have an abortion was due more to Cody’s “personal peccadillos” than “any moral conundrum.” For example: “I’m afraid to give blood, so I could see myself freaking out in the waiting room of an abortion clinic,” she said.
After-party guests numbered approximately 200, including Shawkat, Wiig and Notaro, who made brief appearances, weaving past a tiny, makeshift cash bar and a table filled with Planned Parenthood literature. The civilians present had each contributed an additional $105 to Planned Parenthood, and they went home with cardstock event fliers signed by the cast. Reitman was among the last dozen revelers, who emerged onto Broadway around 11:30 p.m.