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Sweet tart



Headbands: effective on the track, yes; effective as contraception, not so much.
  • Headbands: effective on the track, yes; effective as contraception, not so much.

Juno, PG-13 Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Kimball's Twin Peak, Tinseltown

Early publicity has played up the Next Bitchin' Thing status of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody, and director Jason Reitman's translation of her punchy dialogue into a Heathers for the 21st century. But those expecting solely tart-tongued cynicism will be perplexed by this fuzzy little charmer. Juno ain't nearly as edgy-hip-cool as it would appear on the surface which is perfect, because neither is the girl for whom it is named.

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) probably wishes she were that sneeringly tough. A 16-year-old high school junior, Juno finds herself pregnant after a one-afternoon-stand with her heretofore platonic pal, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). But despite a visit to the local clinic, she can't pull the termination trigger. Instead, she fesses up to her dad (J. K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney), and opts to give her baby up for adoption.

When she finds a newspaper ad placed by Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), an infertile suburban couple, it appears Juno's little accident will have a happy ending after all.

If it does, however, it's not going to happen conventionally. At the outset, it does seem Juno is going to be a vessel for plenty of hyper-literate quotable quotes, with just a dash of smugness.

"This is one doodle that can't be undid, home skillet," opines the clerk (Rainn Wilson) at the convenience store where Juno takes her pregnancy test; "All babies want to get borned," malaprops Juno's Asian-American classmate (Valerie Tian). "It makes his junk taste like pie," deadpans one girl about her boyfriend's boysenberry condoms. You and your friends will bounce some of the pithier lines back and forth for a couple of weeks, and it'll all be forgotten by spring. Right?

Except you won't forget Ellen Page. This is the kind of performance stars are made of. It's certainly partly due to her laser-sharp way with Cody's dialogue, making it somehow seem like a natural part of this quick-witted oddball. But Page also does well with her unspoken moments, like the "I'll be damned" eyebrow she raises when told her fetus already has fingernails. She also gives an understated wounded soul to a girl with an absentee mother trying to find hope for a perfect family in this situation even if it's not going to be her own. It's that little undercurrent of yearning that gives Juno even more heart than attitude.

Some critics have already lined up to fire shots at Juno from opposite directions, suggesting either that it's too enamored of its own verbosity or that it cops out on its early lacerating sensibility. Neither, it turns out, captures why Juno, imperfect though it may be, still works so well. Cody understands the needy kid still lurking inside so many tough-talking teens, and finds in Juno's situation a way to discover happy endings emerging from unorthodox choices.

Everyone seems to agree the film is smart and funny, but its real delights come from elsewhere. The hype machine doesn't seem to see the upside of emphasizing a movie that's purely, unpredictably sweet.

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