Juno (*** 1/2)

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Hollywood is a place where creativity and uniqueness in cinematic vision is allegedly a priority, and yet 2007 alone was overrun with remakes, retreads, sequels and threequels (not a real word, but it’s a good one.) What a nice change of pace, then, to see a film that feels so fresh and original, a film that works both as a comedy and a drama, because after all, isn’t that what life is? Juno, directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, is a real winner of a movie, and features one of the most memorable characters in the movies this year.

Her name is Juno, and she’s played by Ellen Page, in a performance that confirms that Page is the real deal (you probably remember her from last year’s thriller Hard Candy). Juno is 16, sarcastic and wise beyond her years. She is also expecting. As the film opens, she discovers that her one night of passion with her best friend Paulie Bleeker (played by the great Michael Cera) has resulted in her pregnancy. Now, this set-up could be the basis of many different kinds of films. One such film that dealt with pregnancy was this year’s Knocked Up, but as good as that film was, that deal more with the man’s perspective.

I have heard Juno described in different reviews as bittersweet and touching, and in others as hilarious and deeply sarcastic. Like most worthwhile films, it touches on all sorts of tones and moods. As her pregnancy progresses, Juno will feel isolation, frustration, fear and confusion, and the film reflects these emotions.

I can only think of a few other films this year that are as instantly quotable as Juno (Superbad comes to mind). Former stripper and phone sex-operator Diablo Cody’s script is a delight, and the razor-sharp dialogue that Juno delivers is a welcome change from the safe, boring way that most teenage girls talk in most movies. I was also surprised by the way Cody depicts characters that are usually treated as cliches. Juno’s father and stepmother, for instance, are shown as being fiercely supportive, and the common arguments between child and parent are not seen as a terrible outburst, but rather just something that happens.

Ellen Page’s performance as Juno is the key to the film. I find the term “Oscar-worthy” silly and over-used, but frankly, there’s no other way to describe her work here. It’s perfect. Michael Cera, who with this and Superbad has had a hell of a year, finds all the right notes as Bleeker, Juno’s would-be boyfriend and father of her child. J.K. Simmons and Alison Janney give great supporting turns as Juno’s parents, though when have Simmons and Janney not been good in a movie? Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman are well-cast as prospective parents for Juno’s unborn child. Garner is especially well-cast, and in fact, I can’t think of another film where she’s been this good. Bateman plays against type, and is also quite good. I also liked Olivia Thirlby as Juno’s friend and confidant Leah.

Juno is a gem of a movie, a film that stays with you long after the credits roll.

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