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The Cautionary Whale

3 Dec

If you enjoyed the raunchy unplanned-pregnancy comedy Knocked Up earlier this year but wished it was a little bit sweeter, then Juno is the movie for you.

It’s the very funny story of a sardonic high school girl (Ellen Page) in Minnesota who gets bored, has sex with her awkward best friend (Michael Cera), and then finds herself pregnant. (Oops!)

Not ready to deal with being a mother (and an adult), Juno decides to give the baby to a seemingly perfect couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) she finds in, of all places, the Pennysaver.

Alright, so maybe that summary does a disservice to the movie.

In actuality, Juno is one of those quirky little films that packs in a lot of laughs and a lot of heart, and announces the arrival of an original new voice and a great young actress (it’s sort of like this year’s Little Miss Sunshine). That’s the hype you’ll be hearing from now until the Oscars, but it’s actually true and well-deserved.

The writer is Diablo Cody (a former stripper making her screenwriting debut here), and she has crafted a screenplay that is so packed with laughs and strong characters that it reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite in that every other line is quotable and hysterical.

And Ellen Page (who was in, among other things, the third X-Men movie) plays Juno confidently, but as the character begins to learn more about herself and the people around her, she becomes more and more endearing. I’m sure we all can remember a person from high school who acted like and thought they had everything all figured out, but really was very unsure of him/herself. That’s Juno, and Page captures all of that uncertainty in a star-making performance.

Both women will be Oscar-nominated for sure.

Of course, there are other folks in this movie, and it’s worth noting that my girl, Jennifer Garner, also acquits herself quite well. She and Bateman (reteaming again after The Kingdom) are at first the perfect adoptive parents — so perfect they’re quite scary — but as with Juno, beneath the surface they are not what they seem.

Michael Cera is more awkward here than he was in Superbad — just check out those shorts — but he, too, is sweet and endearing. And Rainn Wilson (from The Office) makes a brief appearance early on and utters what will likely be the film’s most quoted line, “That’s one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet.”

I suppose it’d be wrong to overlook director Jason Reitman’s work here because a good screenplay is only half or a third of what makes a movie great. But Juno‘s screenplay is so good, so quotable, so original, so funny, so winning, so clever, and so dominant here that it’s impossible to really notice anything else. It’s that tandem of great words and a perfectly-cast actress that makes Junoa real must-see.

I’m giving it an A–.

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