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'Juno' gives heart to heavy subject matter

Juno (PG-13)

4 stars out of 4

Thank God "Thank You for Smoking" director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody made "Juno" a PG-13 movie. With just a bit more sexual frankness, it could have been pushed into an "R" rating, and subsequently lost it's most important demographic: teens. This is not to say most teenagers will like or even get it. But he smarter ones - and those considering their possible entrance into adult relationships - will find it invaluable. And so will their parents, siblings and babysitters.

Juno (Ellen Page, "Hard Candy") is a smart-mouthed high-school junior who discovers she's pregnant. Her abortion option is quickly considered and immediately dismissed, but not because of any religious or moral issues. Juno simply thinks having the baby is the right thing to do, and she finds out the baby already has fingernails. She is, though, honest enough with herself to know she's not equipped to raise a child. This Juno is one smart cookie. She's also a major smart-aleck, and a highly lovable character.

With a personality that gets dangerously close to being too hip and eclectically high-brow for a teenager, Juno is wise beyond her years but is not emotionally developed enough to harness her laconic wit. Paulie (Michael Cera, "Superbad"), the father of the child, can't match her cool, but somewhat offsets her intellect with loads of innocent, "aw-shucks" charm and an arms-length posture. Both he and Juno know they're not destined for a long term relationship just yet and so do Juno's father Mac (J.K. Simmons, "Spider-man") and step-mother Bren (Allison Janney).

Offering council when asked and direction when appropriate, Juno's parents aren't perfect, but they make for ideal role models. They don't pressure, browbeat or chastise Juno, nor do they let her off the hook. They greatly respect her and have faith in her post-pregnancy choices. If every adolescent had parents like Mac and Bren, the world would be much better off. But that's not quite the same way we might view the prospective adoptive parents.

Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa Loring (Jennifer Garner) are infertile, well-to-do yuppies who've placed an ad in the Penny Saver paper, looking for someone in Juno's position. Vanessa is a little too tightly wound and Mark is not wound-up enough, but after one meeting, Juno gives the Lorings a stamp of approval.

This is a brilliant movie in so many ways. It doesn't preach to the audience or hammer home the obvious issues. Unlike the similarly-themed "Citizen Ruth," the filmmakers don't get close to political or moral grandstanding. It's just a movie, about a girl in a serious position, who takes the high and humorous road.

This same non-judgmental route is what Reitman took in tackling "Thank You for Smoking." All of Juno's options come with pros and cons and there are no easy outs. She and those around her recognize that if you infuse equal amounts of humor, empathy, logic and love into the situation, things won't turn out nearly as bad as they could have otherwise. (Fox Searchlight)