Movie Review: Growing pains

Ellen Page glows as pregnant working-class heroine 'Juno.'

Juno (US) Comedy drama (96 min.) Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language. Juno MacGuff is a girl in a fix. She skipped The Blair Witch Project on television to have sex on a battered brown armchair with classmate Pauli Bleeker, and now there's a raging pink plus sign on each of the three "pee sticks" she tests. Not so cool when you're 16 years old, the guy in question (the dead-pan, understated Michael Cera of Superbad fame) isn't really your boyfriend, and your parents hope the worst kind of trouble you get into would be hard drugs. "Anything," they say, "but this." So off goes uber-sassy Juno (played by 20-year-old Canadian Ellen Page) to Women Now, because, as she drolly states to her cheerleader friend on her hamburger phone, they "help women now." Only it turns out this is a girl who doesn't want their kind of help. Not from any great religious or moral impulse, not even because her "baby has fingernails" as her weedy pro-lifer peer points out, but from a more nebulous kind of gross-out, Juno rejects the abortion. And this is where Juno the movie takes off. We follow the pint-sized lead as she weighs her options, eventually finding a perfect yuppy couple to adopt her "Thing" from an ad in the drugstore's Pennysaver. As autumn turns to winter, Juno becomes the self-declared "cautionary whale" of her high school. The human sea of its corridors part for her as if pregnancy was contagious, and she learns a thing or two about life. THIS IS the fourth "pro-life" film to come out of the States in the last year alone (Waitress, Knocked Up, Bella), but Juno is much more than that, and in some sense avoids imparting any moral message. This is a coming-of-age story about disillusionment, responsibility and growing pains. Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody - who previously spent a year as a pole dancer in order to record her findings on a blog - has Juno negotiate her way through the thicket of sexual, familial and marital relations. Her journey begins with her parents' marriage that dissolved (all she has from her mother's new life is a collection of cactuses - a stinging rejection if there ever was one) and continues with her dad's second marriage to a nail technician. Further from home she contends with the dark secrets of her adoption candidates. The potential father, a Peter-Pan Mark Loring played by the ageing Jason Bateman, feels as if he is "living underground" in his marriage. Her own complicated relationship with Bleeker, a track geek whose only vice is orange tic-tacs, has yet to run its course. (Best movie moment: Bleeker's mom closes the door to his room and we get a 10-second view of his Alef-Beis cloth organizer.) Dispirited and confused, Juno comes home and asks her dad whether its actually possible to find someone and love them forever "or at least for a few years." "Find someone who thinks the sun shines out of your ass" is her father Mac MacGuff's reply. Like Clueless's Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) before her, Juno creates her own inimitable language that's hilariously unpredictable, embracing both the high, the low and the truly bizarre. She too, despite being the working-class, flannel-shirt- wearing incarnation of Silverstone's preppieness, is painfully quotable and eminently watchable. As she sits in Mr. and Mrs. Perfect's home with their pilates machine in front of her, she asks them why they don't just adopt a foreign kid. "You shoulda gone to China," Juno says. "I hear they give away babies like free iPods." WHILE WIT is as abundant in Juno as estrogen, the film certainly has its weaknesses. In the last half hour the plot is implausibly sentimental. How believable is it that the girl who makes such an unusual choice would still have a cheerleader who would stand by her, a father and step-mother who see her through from the first ultra-sound to the delivery, and a guy who does The Right Thing. And in the final analysis, the film also fails to grapple with any lasting psychological damage wrought upon a teenager who gives her kid up for adoption and plans to send it like a package without a return address: "Old school... You know, like Moses in a basket." The ending, which is wrapped up very neatly and tidily, is unsatisfactory to a thinking adult audience. Misgivings aside, the fabulous Juno - that has rightly been compared to Little Miss Sunshine but is sharper, wittier and has an even better soundtrack - is a winner. Academy Awards night will reveal whether this nominee for best picture steals the show. Atira Winchester is the founding editor of The Jerusalem Post's Weekend magazine.