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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Ellen Page, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera
DIRECTED BY
Jason Reitman
SCREENPLAY
Diablo Cody
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
92 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Fox Searchlight
 "Juno" Review 
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Do you remember your first time?
 
I do.
 
Her name was Lisa.
 
She and I were in an acting class together during my freshman year at college, and we became fast friends as we quickly learned about each other that our "creativity" was largely birthed out of the painful circumstances in which we found ourselves living.
 
I should say, though, that I remember HER. She was a beautiful brunette with an angelic voice, quiet disposition and a maturity far beyond her years.
"It" was her idea. Truthfully, I'd never dated and couldn't quite fathom a woman comfortable with my body and its garden-variety, spina bifida-related quirks.
 
The weird thing is that I don't actually remember much about "it"...the act itself.
I think she enjoyed it. Heck, I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it.
 
I'm pretty sure I wore a condom, but for the life of me can't remember doing so.
 
Orgasm? I have NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO idea...for either of us.
 
All I know. All I really know is that I look back on my dysfunctionally sweet sexual history, I remember Lisa and I always smile.
 
Always.
 
Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) is a 16-year-old adorably sardonic young lady who's maturity level is far beyond her years and, yes, equally beyond that of most of the adults who surround her.
 
Well, except for the fact that she is 16. What screenwriter Diablo Cody captures so beautifully with Juno is a young woman who is simultaneously grounded and mature while also being a 16-year-old girl who hasn't quite figured out her world or how she fits in it.
 
The joy of "Juno" is that nothing rings as false or gratuitous or extraneous or "Hollywood." The characters don't say or do "Hollywood" things or make "Hollywood" jokes or play each other's situations for laughs.
 
In fact, it's just the opposite. These are characters that you and I know. In the span of a perfectly paced 92 minutes, director Jason Reitman has taken Cody's script and brought to life characters who matter and situations that feel as if they could have happened in the life of any one of us.
 
In his cinematic debut, Reitman thanked us for smoking. In "Juno," Reitman has created what may very well be the first feel-good story about an unwanted pregnancy. This in a year when unexpected pregnancy has already been played for laughs with "Knocked Up" and quirky poignancy in "Waitress."
 
"Juno" is the best of the three films and features, easily, the best performance by an actress in a comedy this year. Ellen Page's "Juno" is equal parts smart, funny, outsider and vulnerable innocent. She's a quirky cross between Molly Ringwald in "Sixteen Candles" and Page's own "Hard Candy." Page's Juno has it all together and, yet, you can't help but want to hug her anyway.
 
We are introduced to Juno as a SunnyD chugging young lady being taunted by the local drug store cashier (Rainn Wilson) as she tries three different pregnancy tests seeking to unconfirm what we already know to be the truth...Juno's first sexual experiment with her geeky, tic-tac popping best friend (Michael Cera) has led the unquestionably smart young lady down a road she never expected.
 
Where "Juno" separates itself from the pack of teen comedies is in the way it treats its characters as human beings who, in the course of living out their daily lives, find themselves in situations that are simultaneously funny and sad. It's easy to refer to Juno's pregnancy as "unwanted," but I'd be hard-pressed to call it a mistake. The wonder of Cody's script and Reitman's direction is that they blend beautifully and we end up not with lives played for laughs or mistakes to made fun of but with essentially good people making the best choices they can given their knowledge and taking responsibility for the the results of their actions.
 
What a concept, eh?
 
Juno knows she's ill-equipped for motherhood and explores all of her options before making the decision that feels right to her. This leads to two of the film's laugh-out loud funny scenes, one outside a "clinic" and the other, rather appropriately, inside the same "clinic."
 
Her best friend, Leah (a promising Olivia Thirlby), is constantly by her side and helps her read through the local Pennysaver ads with its potentially adoptive parents smack dab next to the pet ads. It is there that they stumble upon Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a picture-perfect couple seeking to adopt.
 
Well, okay. They'd be picture-perfect except for the fact that Vanessa is a business woman, mature and highly maternal young woman while Mark is a perpetually immature commercial jingle composer holding onto his rock star dreams and, in all honesty, the two of them seem to have those sort of painted on smiles one sees in couples that are trying to holding on to something they may have never actually had in the first place.
 
By the time Juno gets around to telling her parents, played to sympathetic perfection by J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney, she's already mapped out how she plans to deal with everything including, quite touchingly, the fact that she knows darn well she's disappointed her loving parents.
 
How long has it been since we've seen a teen comedy with parents who were simultaneously allowed to be both disappointed and yet lovingly parental?
I sit here the morning after watching "Juno" still laughing and crying when remembering Bren, Juno's mother, fiercely defending her step-daughter in a wonderful little scene during the first ultrasound.  THAT, in fact, is the power of "Juno"...the little scenes that add up to smiles, laughs, a few tears and the familiar nod of recognition and praise.
 
It may seem obvious how "Juno" is going to evolve, but largely owing to Diablo Cody's instinctive and intelligent script we learn the same lesson that Juno learns...life doesn't always take us down the road we expected but, more often than not, it takes us down the road we ought to go.
 
While "Juno" is clearly centered upon Ellen Page's finely layered performance as Juno, Page is surrounded by a delightful supporting cast including Cera's warm and relaxed turn as her adorably clueless boyfriend and the usual dependable performances from both Simmons and Janney.
 
Along with Page, the real revelation of "Juno" is a surprisingly heartfelt and spot-on performance by Jennifer Garner. Garner's Vanessa, at first, seems almost villainish as an uptight business woman. Yet, over the course of the film, Garner creates a Vanessa who gradually shows more and more until, suddenly, one can't help but root for Vanessa to have her dreams come true. One scene, in a shopping mall no less, is one of 2007's best scenes caught on film and Garner completely nails it with a level of vulnerability she's simply never displayed onscreen.
 
Likewise, however, Bateman plays down his quirkiness with an understated performance that, over the course of the film, blends a big brother quality with a slight creepiness that is perfectly resolved without ever going over-the-top.
From jogging shorts to tic-tacs, the production design for "Juno" is simple yet effective while the film features a killer soundtrack ranging from Belle and Sebastian to Sonic Youth to Iggy and the Stooges and, finally, to the tunes of Kimya Dawson that are featured throughout the film.
 
"Juno," which captured 3 Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture-Comedy, may very well have what it takes to become this year's breakout indie flick (like last year's "Little Miss Sunshine") with its wide-audience appeal, infinitely quotable lines and unique blend of intelligence, acceptance, humor and honesty.
 
I love films like "Juno." I'm sitting here the next morning at my computer writing a review and I can't stop laughing and crying and remembering scenes, lines and, most importantly, the characters I grew to care about in the short span of 92 minutes.
 
All I can say to Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is "Thank YOU for Juno."
 

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

    The Official Rating Guideline
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