January 3, 2008

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Juno (PG-13)
A sassy-talking girl gets in a family way and seeks parents for her spawn in the Penny-saver in Juno, a somewhat stilted but sweet movie featuring yet another fine turn by Michael Cera.

Ah, George Michael, what a talented young man youíve become.

Juno (Ellen Page) is a punk-rock-loving smartypants teenager who finds herself knocked up but without the age or high-paying job at E! of Katherine Heiglís character in 2007ís other American accidental pregnancy movie. She briefly considers the shmasmortion option but (because where would the story be if she went that route?) decides instead to carry the baby and search for good adoptive parents. (Someday, when somebody does a masterís thesis about public opinions on abortion as reflected in cinema, that person can dissect Junoís decision not to terminate her pregnancy ó which would have been the most logical path for her no-nonsense unsentimental character ó and whether itís a decision that reveals something about the zeitgeist of her generation or a necessary flaw in the narrative, which requires we suspend what we know at this point in the movie about her character in order for the plot to have something to develop around. Iím not going to do that here, but I look forward to reading the summarizing opinion piece, possibly in the New York Times Magazine, that will likely be born out of it.)

Juno quickly finds Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) and Mark (Jason Bateman) and takes their nice house and their attractive photo in the ad to mean that they are a perfect couple. One look at them and the audience can tell they are not. Vanessa wants with a kind of scary desperation to have a child and Mark looks like heís just waiting for a chance to bolt. Perhaps his room full of musical equipment, comic books and other memorabilia of the rock star life he had hoped to lead is part of whatís keeping him around. Juno seems to take his love of rocking out as a sign that he was a fated choice for her childís parent and develops what Junoís stepmother (Allison Janney) thinks might not be a particularly appropriate relationship with him.

Junoís father (J.K. Simmons) seems anxious for his daughter to get back into her nonpregnant teenage life again and at least somewhat interested in punching Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) in the trouble-causing part of his anatomy. For, you see, Bleeker is the soft-voiced, track-running, Tic Tac-eating father of Junoís baby. He never quite seems to catch his breath as to whatís happened and, while being too sweet to ask for anything as intrusive as a say in the matter, at least wants Juno (his former bandmate and one-night stand) to acknowledge that they might have more between them than an embryo.

Cera is 19 but makes a very convincing befuddled middle of high school-aged kid. Page is 20, almost 21, but she too seems legitimately younger and not like the 15-year-olds-by-way-of-40 portrayed on shows such as Gossip Girl and The O.C. This helps with the confused and not always sense-making things they do and say ó who does make sense at 16? It also helps to dampen the stageyness of the extremely slangy and quippy way everyone talks. Some degree of pretension is natural to the age group, not just a sign of an immature script. So when Juno talks in her Daria-like monotone about how her baby probably looks like a sea monkey and she needs to keep it in the oven until it gets a little cuter or how 1977 was the best year for rock, you can see not just a too-hip-for-the-room kid but a kid who is scared and wants to seem too-hip-for-the-room so she wonít get hurt.

Buy into this particular quirk of the movie and youíll enjoy the dry humor, the sweet relationships and the indie music soundtrack. Youíll also get a chance to marvel at Page, who is like Janeane Garofalo before the Air America shriekiness and the general overexposure. And youíll get solid performances from Janney and Simmons (who use small moments ó mostly apart ó to create a wholly believable portrait of a married couple) and Cera, who, as mentioned, is great at this stuff. B

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language. Directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Juno is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed by Fox Searchlight.