Friday, December 7, 2007

'Juno' finds comedy in serious subject

**** out of ****

Winning major acclaim at this year's Toronto Film Festival, "Juno" serves up a comedic look at the rather unfunny topic of unplanned teen pregnancy.

The film opens with Juno MacGruff (Ellen Page), a 16-year-old high school junior, finding out she's pregnant. Over the course of several days and taking many pregnancy tests that keep turning up positive, the store clerk (Rainn Wilson) gives Juno these foreboding words as she shakes her pregnancy test: "That ain't no Etch-A-Sketch. That's one doodle that can't be undid, homeskillet."

Her geeky boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), becomes the father after their first sexual encounter. When Juno breaks the news to her best friend, Leah (Olivia Thirlby), she is offered the options of abortion or adoption. She picks the former, but at the clinic decides she can't go through with it and plans to have the baby and give it to a loving family.

Juno's vacuum-salesman father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), and stepmother, Bren (Allison Janney), a dog-obsessed nail salon owner, aren't quite thrilled with the prospect, but are supportive nonetheless.

With Leah's help they find a married couple seeking a child in the local paper. Living in a gated community, the wealthy couple turns out to be the immaculate Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) and her husband, Mark (Jason Bateman).

Vanessa is thrilled at the prospect of being a mother, but Mark, a composer for commercial jingles with dreams of being a rock star, isn't as ecstatic. However, Mark finds a connection with Juno, who shares the same interests in music and guitar.

"Juno" is quite the ride through a high schooler's ordeal of dealing with the emotional rollercoaster of being pregnant and the tribulations of carrying a child. Twenty-year-old Canadian actor Ellen Page is phenomenal as Juno, delivering her lines with great comedic timing and the ability to display emotion with ease. Breaking out in 2005's acclaimed thriller "Hard Candy" and then in "X-Men: The Last Stand," Page certainly has made a name for herself.

"Superbad" star Cera is charmingly funny as Paulie, but is slightly underused, not having much of a role during Juno's pregnancy, until the movie's end. Simmons and Janney deliver some of the funniest lines while supporting Juno throughout the film.

Bateman adds lighthearted comedy to his supportive role and Garner gives some of her best work as a mother-to-be.

Sophomore slump isn't a phrase you would use to describe Jason Reitman's second outing at a feature film. His first was the highly regarded comedy "Thank You for Smoking."

"Juno" is the first screenplay written by Diablo Cody (her real name is Brook Busey), a 29-year-old whose previous occupation was, oddly enough, as a stripper. Diablo certainly has proven she can write and her name will come up again soon with Showtime's "The United States of Tara," created by Steven Spielberg and starring Toni Collette, and an adaptation of her book "Candy Girl: A Year in the Unlikely Life of a Stripper."

With laugh-out-loud scenes every moment, a writer, director and actress who you can't wait to see what they'll do next, and a heartfelt ending, "Juno" is a film you need to see.

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