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When a movie like Juno comes to town it’s a big deal

by Glen Baity

I love Greensboro, but sometimes I wish we all lived in a city that scored more limited release engagements for films like Juno.

Why? Because by now, after a month-long limited release in hipper places, which was preceded by three months on the festival circuit, Jason Reitman’s great little film has been met with so much critical praise you’re probably scouring the earth to find a person who isn’t in love with it.

That is, of course, if you don’t have an internet connection. If you have one, as with everything else, you won’t have to look far.

In this day and age, sadly, the backlash against a movie like Juno starts almost before the buzz begins. I pretend I don’t understand it, but I suppose if I’d been told by 30 different people that Juno was the best movie ever, I’d be a little skeptical too. Strangely, that backlash usually hits critical mass around Oscar-nominating season: “It was okay,” you might say, “but best picture? Come on.” As if the Oscars mean anything, at all, ever.

So let me frame this review in a way I hope will maximize your enjoyment, now that the unwashed masses of the Triad can have a look at this year’s indie darling: Juno isn’t the best movie ever. It won’t change your life. It will entertain you, and it will do it better than just about any movie out right now.

The story finds 16-year-old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) pregnant after an evening of awkward teenage sex with her best friend Paulie (Michael Cera). The film follows its title character through nine months of pregnancy after she decides to give her baby up for adoption to McMansion-dwellers Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner). He’s a composer of commercial jingles, she’s evidently a professional worrier; together, Juno believes, the pair will make a perfect home for her honest mistake.

The film’s driving force is the 20-year-old Page, whose only previous major role was in the thoroughly disturbing and excellent Hard Candy That film, about a teenager who seeks revenge on a pedophile, allowed her a range of emotion that the young actor filled brilliantly. Juno is another film that demands a lot of its star, and once again Page delivers. Her reading of the character finds the fear behind the cool façade, but it finds the resolve as well. Through it all, there’s a charm in Page’s delivery that kept me hanging on her every word.

Along for moral support are Juno’s father and stepmother (JK Simmons and Allison Janney, both wonderful as usual). Like everyone else here, they seem to be ambassadors visiting your movie screen from a nicer world, which is at the heart of Juno’s appeal. First-time screenwriter Diablo Cody populates her story with characters that could easily be nothing more than posts for Juno to hang her ample witticisms on. But these characters, for the most part, have fuller personalities than you might anticipate, and they treat each other with a kindness and understanding that’s pretty rare here in the real world.

And as her characters are kind to each other, Cody is kind to her characters. She might rib adoptive-mom-to-be Vanessa for her jangly nerves and borderline OCD, but the writer recognizes that Vanessa is a fundamentally good person with good motives. Cody finds a little something in each of these people to tease them about, but she finds more to praise and appreciate. Consequently, even in their petty moments, these are characters you can relate to.

Juno is a great little movie. Though it’s patently unrealistic, it will make you feel good, and believe that there are still people in the world who look out for one another, like last year’s much-praised, then much-maligned Little Miss Sunshine.

Is it perfect? Well, of course not. The soundtrack is fun for a little while, but becomes almost aggressively twee after 90 minutes’ exposure. Some of my preferred members of the great ensemble cast get shorted on screen time (mostly Cera). But these are small concerns when stacked up against the film’s formidable heart, humor and warmth.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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