Movie Review: "Juno"

There is a gesture -- a physical gesture -- made not far from the end of "Juno", the only interaction in the entire film between two major characters, which is so tender, so sweet, and so appropriate, it sums up nearly the entire story of this film.

"Juno" could have been a formula film with stereotyped characters, because it is about teenage pregnancy. Instead, what we get is a comedy -- don't get me wrong, there are some hilariously funny lines in this film -- that's also real, because the characters don't react in the way we have come to expect characters in this situation would react. They react like real people, and the result is, we wind up caring deeply about what happens to them.

The basic plot: Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page -- and in this age of bad girl actresses like the Spears girls and Lindsay Lohan, it's refreshing to see someone of this generation with this sort of talent, and who's apparently hardworking and normal; Page ought to be nominated for Best Actress for this role) has sex with "her best friend". It's her first time (and his, too) and, naturally, she gets pregnant. Paulie, the best friend (Michael Cera), isn't at all what you'd expect from a character like this. He's quiet and sweet and is on the track team (apparently, what attracted Juno to him in the first place was his legs), and as we find out, Juno really does love him, and not in the way you see most teenagers "love" in the movies.

When Juno (and we also learn from the film why she has this unusual name) tells her father (J. K. Simmons, who played the editor in the Spiderman films) and stepmother Bren (Allison Janney) about this, their reactions set the tone for the entire film. While Bren and Juno are shown to be at odds over many things -- not uncommon for stepparents -- you can also clearly see that Bren loves and cares deeply for Juno.

Juno eventually decides she wants to have the baby and put it up for adoption, and she and her friend Leah find (in the "Penny Saver"!) a couple who have placed a classified ad looking for a baby.

And once again, this couple isn't what you'd expect. Juno and her family aren't exactly from "the wrong side of the tracks", but it's clear that they live in modest circumstances, while the potential adoptive parents, Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner, in a part far different from her usual adventure roles), live in "Glacier Estates", an upscale subdivision. There's obviously something uncomfortably wrong with this relationship when we first meet this couple -- but it doesn't take the turns you think it's going to; even when the film appears to be going in one direction, the characters don't act in stereotypical ways. Eventually, Juno and Vanessa run into each other at a mall and what happens there will astonish and delight you.

And there, I'll stop; the only thing that remains to be said is that every single character in "Juno" feels real, not acted; the story is human and believable. It doesn't feel written or acted, it feels lived. You'll understand the motivations and actions behind every scene. Jason Reitman, the director (who also directed the comedy 'documentary' "Thank You For Smoking"), doesn't hit one discordant note, and his use of music is, well, just perfect.

Run, don't walk, to see this film. It will leave you smiling. And keep your eyes on Ellen Page, who is all of 20 years old (though the character she plays in this film is supposed to be 16). She is a major talent.

AYRating:

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