“Juno”: not just a city in Alaska

From her kitchen in Minneapolis, Diablo Cody – blogger, college graduate and former stripper – was skeptical when a man claiming to be a Hollywood producer told her she was funny and should write a screenplay.

“Initially I was like, yeah right, who is this guy?” laughs Cody at a recent screening of her film, “Juno” (Fox Searchlight). As it turned out, Cody’s e-mail correspondent was Mason Novick (“Red Eye”).

“After e-mailing with him for a while, I just thought, why not?” After a few months of diligent writing, “Juno” was born. Hilarious and affecting, the film chronicles nine months in the life of 16-year-old Juno MacGuff.

Ellen Page (“Hard Candy”) is brilliant in the title role. She is delightfully sarcastic and sharp-tongued, while never making Juno seem hard or inaccessible.

The film begins after Juno’s very first sexual encounter with crush and bandmate Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera) when she discovers she is pregnant.

Juno deals with this setback with wit and practicality ahead of her years, and after deciding to keep the baby, she enlists the help of her best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby) to find suitable adoptive parents.

Together, by searching the pages of the PennySaver, they decide upon suburban couple Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). Garner is convincing as Vanessa, a tightly wound woman desperate for a baby. Bateman plays her opposite as Mark, a composer of commercial jingles who still harbors ambitions of being a rock star.

At home, Juno’s unexpected pregnancy is handled with more humor than any pregnant teenager could hope for. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney are consistently funny as Juno’s quirky, agreeable parents.

As the film unfolds, Juno must learn to navigate her life in new ways. It is a coming-of-age story only in the simplest sense, but nothing about “Juno” feels false or cliché. Despite having teenage pregnancy at its core, it is unlike any movie done on the subject before. This is achieved, first and foremost, thanks to the incisive and imaginative script crafted by Cody.

The dialogue is tight and nothing is superfluous. Unlike so many other Hollywood productions, where characters and plot points serve only as filler or to satisfy formulaic expectations, Cody’s script manages to eclipse those lesser films.

She develops all the main characters, not just one or two – no small feat for a film of only –92 minutes.

Most comical are the interactions between Juno and Paulie Bleeker. Although both are clearly crazy about the other, they often have trouble communicating these feelings within the awkwardness of high school politics (made considerably more awkward by Juno’s pregnancy).

In the world of the film, characters have their own distinct lingo – new language is pitched out to the audience at a rapid-fire pace. (Paulie uses the words “cool” and “wizard” interchangeably, and Juno thinks that he is “totally boss.”)

The greatest achievement of the movie is its fastidious attention to detail. Juno has a hamburger phone, Brenda spends her free time cutting out coupons from dog magazines, while Paulie has a serious proclivity for orange Tic- Tacs.

Beyond just being funny and eccentric, what makes “Juno” special is the emotional honesty it brings to the screen.

On discovering his daughter is pregnant, Mac MacGuff sighs, “Boy, I thought you were the kind of girl who knew when to say when.”

“I don’t really know what kind of girl I am,” answers Juno.

“Juno” makes it easy to relate to the difficulties of growing up, no matter what age.

As Juno moves through the film and toward a more solid understanding of who she is as a person, the audience finds empathizing increasingly effortless.

It is this mix of discerning integrity and clever dialogue that makes “Juno” such a fantastic movie.

“Juno,” starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, opens nationwide on Dec. 5.

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