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Juno

She’s Having a Baby

Juno is a rarity indeed -- a film about teenagers that speaks their language and cares deeply about their problems. As a coming-of-age tale about 16-year old Juno, who impulsively sleeps with her best friend and soon finds herself the victim of an unwanted pregnancy, it covers familiar ground, but it does so honestly and intelligently, without a hint of melodramatic gimmickry.

Juno is remarkably glib about her predicament, casually referring to herself as “the cautionary whale” and masking her insecurities with quick, sarcastic quips. It’s a front, of course -- grating at times, but behind the tough talk and self-assured posturing lurks a scared teenager.

Ellen Page, who played a memorable femme fatale in 2005’s Hard Candy, infuses the role with charming exuberance and never reduces Juno to an adolescent stereotype. She is precocious but understandably naïve, convinced that her pregnancy can be remedied with one of two seemingly simple solutions: abortion or adoption. The reality is a bit messier than that.

At first, she toys with the idea of abortion before witnessing the distressingly grim scene at her local clinic. From there, she moves on to the Lorings, a well-to-do couple whose desire for a child is undermined by their marital shortcomings. Mark (Jason Bateman), who has never fully abandoned his dreams of becoming a rock star, relates to Juno’s appreciation for classic punk and grisly horror films. His wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) just wants to be a mother.

Juno is disillusioned by the Lorings, who are anything but the loving, well-adjusted couple whose handsome portrait called to her from the pages of the PennySaver classifieds, but the experience proves a valuable one. Yes, it’s an age-old lesson -- the world can be cruel and unforgiving, even for rapidly maturing teens who think they have all the answers. But first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody treats Juno’s rite of passage with rare tenderness and a keen eye for details that rings true.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars