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"JUNO"
(2007) (Ellen Page, Michael Cera) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A quirky 16-year-old must contend with discovering she's pregnant, followed by her decision to have and put the baby up for adoption.
PLOT:
Juno MacGuff (ELLEN PAGE) is a quirky 16-year-old who's discovered that she's pregnant via her one sexual encounter with her friend and classmate Paulie Bleeker (MICHAEL CERA). After telling her best friend, Leah (OLIVIA THIRLBY), of the unexpected news, she plans to have an abortion, but then changes her mind for good about that. Instead, she not only informs her dad, Mac (J.K. SIMMONS), and stepmom, Bren (ALLISON JANNEY), of her condition, but also that she intends to give up the child for adoption.

She thinks she's found the perfect couple -- via their classified ad -- in Vanessa (JENNIFER GARNER) and Mark Loring (JASON BATEMAN), an upscale, childless couple. With Paulie okay with whatever decision she makes, and her not wanting them to be anything more than friends, Juno then proceeds with the pregnancy. As the months pass, she and Mark bond over music and similar mindsets, all as Vanessa prepares herself for the day when she'll finally become a new mom.

From that point on, Juno must contend not only with the changes to her body and others' reactions to her pregnancy, but also unexpected developments in her plan, all as everyone around her tries to support her and her decision for herself and her unborn child.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
As in most things in life, timing is everything when it comes to movies, and particularly regarding when they're released. The most famous incident, of course, was "The China Syndrome" coming out around the time of Three Mile Island. Of more current note, the recent public change in opinion against the wars in Iraq and elsewhere has resulted in less than favorable box office response to new war-related movies.

Then again, when those films were being conceived, attitudes were different, and most in the industry couldn't have anticipated the change several years later. When former stripper turned screenwriter Diablo Cody was penning her teen pregnancy dramedy "Juno," how could she have known that another adolescent in that very state would make big news to coincide with her film's release.

Yet, here we are, with, of all people in the Spears family, Britney's younger sis, Jamie Lynn, turning out to be preggers. Considering what else has occurred in that family, I supposed it shouldn't be all that shocking. Except for the fact that the girl is just sixteen. And like the titular protagonist in "Juno," she's apparently decided to have the baby.

I have my doubts, however, that things will turn out as well as they do for Juno MacGuff (and they certainly won't be as entertaining and enjoyable), the smart and sassy adolescent who's quite the find for moviegoers looking for unique, non-cookie cutter teen characters in their cinematic offerings.

With terrific dialogue from Cody -- that's out there in terms of being quirky and hip, but not too far or plentiful enough to become tiresome or irritating -- Ellen Page takes the character and delivers one of the year's best acting performances. While 20-years-old in reality, the actress (who also made quite an impression in the barely seen revenge flick "Hard Candy") easily pulls off sixteen, and creates the pitch-perfect protagonist who's just leaving her childhood behind her (with this unexpected development certainly pushing her along).

She gets plenty of help from her fellow cast members in the supporting roles. Michael Cera (who's now done the teen sex double feature this year with "Superbad") is good as the awkward boyfriend (even if it would have been nice had he been around more). J.K. Simmons gets some of the best line delivery playing the surprised but supportive dad, and Allison Jamey puts a nice twist on the usual stepmom character. Olivia Thirlby does the best teen friend bit, while Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman round out the cast as the would-be adoptive parents (beyond some occasional dialogue, they put most of the drama in the dramedy).

While the material isn't as black or satirical as what Jason Reitman (son of fellow director Ivan) worked with in "Thank You For Smoking," the filmmaker gives it enough of an edge to make it stand out from other teen-related films, particularly ones featuring pregnant characters (that usually get more of the dramatic, Lifetime TV movie treatments).

Coupled with the witty script, Page's terrific performance, and a quirkily fun soundtrack, Reitman would really have to try hard to mess things up. Thankfully he doesn't, and the result is an enjoyable, highly entertaining, and even occasionally touching offering that takes a unique approach to telling the tale of a pregnant teen.

How it plays considering the coincidental timing with the news of younger Spears' somewhat but not altogether shocking pregnancy is yet to be determined. As good as it is, however, the film should generate positive news of its own, as well as the likely pregnant pause regarding just how many awards it will be nominated for and possibly win. "Juno" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed December 22, 2007 / Posted December 25, 2007


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