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Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008 01:16 pm

Coming to terms

Ellen Page shines as girl forced to grow up

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Juno Running time 1:32 Rated PG-13
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Juno Running time 1:32 Rated PG-13

Sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) straddles the line between the fancies of a little girl and the concerns of an adult woman. One moment, she’s talking on a phone shaped liked a hamburger about complex emotions; the next, she’s moving discarded furniture to the home of her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), to surprise him. Yep, she’s all over the place emotionally and mentally, yet this intelligent teen knows she’s going to have to make some important decisions real soon. She’s pregnant and telling her parents is the least of her worries as she has to decide whether to keep her child, a decision she knows deep down she’s not ready to make. The premise for Jason Reitman’s wonderful Juno sounds like that of a modern Afterschool Special but in the hands of first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, it becomes so much more than a moralistic sermon. Featuring characters as complex as the problems that face them, the film is moving and, at the same time, a whole lot of fun. Finding an ad placed by a couple eager to adopt, Juno sets out to meet Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), whose pristine suburban palace does nothing but hide simmering discontent. Vanessa’s a perfectionist, while Mark is suffering from an extended case of Peter Pan syndrome, writing commercial ditties to pay the bills but still longing to become a rock musician. Juno, however, sees nothing but a comfortable, stable home that she thinks will be a haven for her unborn child. As Juno’s due date approaches, complicated feelings that all these characters have kept in check begin to surface. While keeping Juno as the focus, Reitman and Cody also give ample screen time to her father, Mac (J.K. Simmons), and stepmother Bren (Allison Janney), as well as Paulie and the Lorings. Their juggling of all of these stories is one of the unsung qualities of the film, which is complemented by the fine work of the cast. Ultimately, the film rests on Page’s shoulders and she’s more than up to the task of investing in Juno a seemingly contradictory sense of strength, confusion, adolescence, and passion. The naïveté she displays is heartbreaking, as we know that the decisions she’s making will come back to haunt her. We suspect she knows this but is taking the most expedient path to help spare the ones she loves. Page pulls this all off with high energy and great emotion, giving us a young woman who, though forced to grow up, retains an optimistic point of view that will see her through in the end.
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