Juno

2007, Movie, PG-13, 91 mins

Review

JUNO
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First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody's gently comic, different-for-girls tale of a pregnant, hyper-verbal teenager is the distaff answer to the testosterone-fueled hijinks of movies like KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD (both 2007).

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) wears her geek-chic with pride and doesn't so much refuse to conform as simply not consider the possibility of being anyone or anything except who she is: an independent, outspoken, pop-culture-loving teenager with a smart remark for every occasion. Her best friend, Paulie (Michael Cera), is equally outside the mainstream of suburban high-school life, so it's probably inevitable that their first fumbling sexual experience is with each other. Unfortunately, it leaves Juno pregnant. She considers an abortion, but decides she'd rather have the baby and come to a private adoption agreement with a suitable couple. Her father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney), are surprised but supportive, Paulie has no say whatsoever in the matter, and Juno's friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) suggests scouting the local PennySaver for potential adoptive parents. Sure enough, there are the Lorings, Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman), financially secure, in their midthirties and conveniently located in a neighboring town. Vanessa seems nice, if a little earnest, and Mark — a former rock-and-roller who writes advertising jingles — is cool; he and Juno bond over guitars, music and horror movies, even if Mark has the lamentable taste to like Herschell Gordon Lewis' films better than Dario Argento's. As far as the Lorings — and their lawyer — are concerned, Juno is a godsend: certain she wants to give up her baby and articulate about why, not looking to make a buck on their desperate desire for a child. But the progress of Juno's pregnancy coincides with subtle shifts in her relationships — especially her easy camaraderie with Mark, whose laid-back cool rests lightly over an incipient early midlife crisis.

What makes both Juno and JUNO more than the sum of their pop-culture-saturated patter and cooler-than-thou is the subtly changeable emotional landscape beneath the snappy surface. Juno is sharp as a tack and dumb as a 16-year-old. Her sophistication is untempered by life experience and her sharp comebacks keep the adult world, with all its complications and compromises, at bay. And yet Diablo and director Jason Reitman never undercut Juno, whom Page brings to a fully rounded life (no pun intended) that verges on the frightening: Her vulnerable center doesn't belie her formidable exterior — it just makes her more than a sitcom-patter machine. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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