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Nov. 18, 2007

D'you know "Juno"?

by Kiera Zitelman, Online Editor-in-Chief
"I'm not sure I'm ready for this" is a frequent response to pregnancy, according to "Pregnancy for Dummies," which Ellen Page read to prepare for her role as a pregnant teenager in "Juno." But a note to those who might write off "Juno" as another tragic tale of a teen mom: it's not. The film is a hilarious comedy from Jason Reitman ("Thank You For Smoking"), and it is not just about the pregnancy. "Juno" is a classic-to-be about growing up, and the little "bumps" along the way.

16-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page, "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "Hard Candy") discovers she is pregnant. She tells her boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera, "Superbad") and parents (Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons), who all panic. Sound like a hackneyed storyline? Don't give up on it yet. Juno rejects abortion and chooses the less-popular option of finding a set of adoptive parents, Vanessa and Mark Loring (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). The resulting clashes between the guitar-playing Juno and the yuppie couple make for a humorous 92 minutes.

Page, at just 20 years old, shows tremendous acting potential. She delivers Juno's lines deadpan, adding expression only when necessary. This is hardly bad acting it's brilliant. Juno is a sarcastic teen whose pregnancy only makes her more of a cynic. Page's interpretation of the role recalls Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell and Paul Dano of last summer's "Little Miss Sunshine." Rarely is the character smiling. Most of the time, they deliver sarcastic but hilarious observations about whatever awkward or otherwise strange situation in which they are embedded.

The rest of the characters of "Juno" have so little in common, their sharp contrast makes them the perfect cast. Garner's almost obsessive-compulsive hyperactivity contrasts with Bateman's relaxed attitude, while Simmons's military-style toughness stands out against Janney's soft mothering. Cera takes on and pulls off a completely different persona than his role as the sex-obsessed Evan in "Superbad." He actually manages to show expression and deep feelings in "Juno," providing the perfect counterpart to Page's role.

A fantastic script, written by Diablo Cody, again recalls "Little Miss Sunshine," with its deadpan humor that is mainly situation-based, as opposed to the one-liners and simple punch lines seen in mainstream comedies. But unlike last summer's runaway hit, "Juno" has the potential to become a classic. The film is one big awkward moment, according to Cody. "I tend to find hilarity in awkward situations," she said at a Nov. 13 sneak preview at E Street Cinema in Washington.

One of the best scenes in "Juno" is the animated main titles at the beginning. It is purposely jerky, following the live-action Juno as she walks through town. The letters dance around a cleverly thought out town that seems to be Juno in village form.

The film's soundtrack is extraordinarily eclectic, featuring well-known acts (The Kinks, Courtney Love, Sonic Youth) and indie artists (The Moldy Peaches, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power). Page recommended Kimya Dawson, the female half of Moldy Peaches, to sing and write music. The result is a set of well put-together songs with exceptional lyrics that echo the essence of the characters particularly Mark, who writes commercial jingles, but still dreams of being a rock star. Through music, Juno and Mark build a relationship that serves as the source for most of the character development in the film. Page believes the characters enable the audience to relate to the film. "Whenever a character is well-written, honest and whole, you can always relate to that person," she says.

Anyone who enjoyed "Little Miss Sunshine" will love "Juno." But don't go with the expectation that the two movies are the same "Juno" will surprise, entertain and make people laugh in ways that few other movies have accomplished.

"Juno" is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, and language. Opens Dec. 5 2007 in select theaters.



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